“We must try to take life moment by moment. The actual present is pretty tolerable I think, if only we refrain from adding to its burden that of the past and the future.”
~ C.S. Lewis in Letters to an American Lady
Last week Joe and I enjoyed a trip with some friends to hear the history of a plantation house a little over an hour from our home. Dozens of trips to and from College Station when our son was a graduate student there took us on a highway almost at the edge of the acreage where the house is located, but we had never been able to go inside or learn about the important place in Texas History held by Liendo Plantation. The grounds were lovely and shady on a very hot day, peacocks strutted and called, a beautiful herd of Red Brahman cattle grazed beyond the fences, a one-hundred-year-old black walnut tree towered, and a small pergola at the back of the house was covered with wisteria that must have been breathtaking when it bloomed in late Spring. I took some pictures of the massive twisted vines from one side, but Joe found this on the other side. The tiny birdhouse with a heart shaped hole must have been set there years ago. Through the years, the vines have twisted and turned their way through the house and out the “door.” No room for birds there anymore. It is a novel picture, but disturbing thought.
What do we allow to grow inside our hearts and homes, filling them so that home is no longer a place of rest, refuge and hospitality? I wonder how long the vines grew before birds could no longer nest there. We have moved almost 2 dozen times in the over 50 years of our marriage and have recently moved again. The houses may change, but as we settle and fill each with faith and love and open doors, it becomes home. I hope to never allow something to grow that pushes the things that belong there away.
Stained glass window in one of The Painted Churches in Texas
I love every one of The Panted Curches I have visited. As you approach each of them, you see lovely but fairly plain old buildings. But when you open the door and step inside, your breath is taken away with color and beauty, each one unique from the others.
I am reminded once again to pay attention, to take the time to stop and look past the exterior of the ordinary. It may contain a discovery of wonder and beauty.
It is not true that creation and the human family are doomed to destruction and loss—
This is true: For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life;
It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction—
This is true: I have come that they may have life, and that abundantly.
It is not true that violence and hatred should have the last word, and that war and destruction rule forever—
This is true: Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, his name shall be called wonderful councilor, mighty God, the Everlasting, the Prince of peace.
It is not true that we are simply victims of the powers of evil who seek to rule the world—
This is true: To me is given authority in heaven and on earth, and lo I am with you, even until the end of the world.
It is not true that we have to wait for those who are specially gifted, who are the prophets of the Church before we can be peacemakers—
This is true: I will pour out my spirit on all flesh and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions and your old men shall have dreams.
It is not true that our hopes for liberation of humankind, of justice, of human dignity of peace are not meant for this earth and for this history—
This is true: The hour comes, and it is now, that the true worshipers shall worship God in spirit and in truth.
So let us enter Advent in hope, even hope against hope. Let us see visions of love and peace and justice. Let us affirm with humility, with joy, with faith, with courage: Jesus Christ—the life of the world.
From Walking on Thorns, by Allan Boesak, Eerdmans, 2004.
I have written in earlier posts about finding feathers. I have chosen to believe when I find a feather, it is one way God says he is with me and providing for me. A feather is also a symbol that small things are important. My 9 year old granddaughter came to me this week with this feather. She said, “Granmary, this is another feather to go with the others.”
I am grateful for this girl and her generosity. It is important for me to remember that what I do and say is seen and heard. Small things are important.
Words in these lines from William Henry Channing create a leit motif as we slow down into the pace and space of summer. The song of this tiny feathered friend perched on the back of our porch swing calls me to stop and look and listen. And sing.
listen to stars and birds and babies and wisdom
open my heart
let the holy grow up through the common
“To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not, rich; to listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with open heart; to study hard; to think quietly, act frankly, talk gently, await occasions, hurry never; in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common — this is my symphony.”
William Henry Channing
In our part of Texas, we seldom have severe winter weather. Although November was colder than most years, December was unusually warm until Christmas. But 2015 turned a cold shoulder on us. It has been wet and cold, with twice the normal amount of rain and very cold – definitely coat, scarf, and glove days. Since we have a few tender plants in our garden, when temperatures are predicted to drop to an extended period of hard freeze, we scuttle about trying to protect plants, pipes, and pets. We haul out our stack of covers and try to secure them in gusts of wind that take cover off as fast as we put it on while we weight or pin it down. We didn’t cover our antique roses, but they seemed to welcome the wet cold days with an extra crop of blooms. I have written before about the difference in color and fragrance in a winter rose bloom, but this round of blooming was so welcome in the bone chilling cold, gray days that I found them particularly welcome. These “Old Roses” are known for their survival. They come from root stock that is known for its stay power. The notable thing is that these roses didn’t just stay alive in the bitter cold and whipping winds. They bloomed anyway.
It is one thing to be grateful for having come from strong roots (the stories of my ancestors tell me over and over how much grit and grace they had)) – but it is another thing to be aware of what I may be passing on to my sons and grandchildren. I want to live in ways that can be described as not just surviving, but blooming anyway.
Seed catalogs begin to appear in the mail just as Christmas cards have stopped making their appearance. I begin to plan which plants will go into my garden long before the weather allows preparing the soil to receive new plants and seeds. But I know I must plan and choose carefully before planting. I have a choice whether I grow beautiful fragrant herbs or allow the wind to blow in unwanted, invasive weeds. We may sow wildflower seeds on the sides of our roadways, but I don’t know anyone who intentionally puts weed seeds in their gardens.
As our new year begins, many of us prepare our hearts and souls for new growth, expanding our capacity to experience faith, hope, and love. We can choose what is planted and allowed to grow within us.
“…the key to living well is not so much what’s outside of us as what’s inside of us. It is what is deepest within us, not what is vexing around us, that determines the quality of our lives…Everything that’s in the heart we either put there or allow to nest there. We are responsible for the content of our souls.” Joan Chittister
This folk art crèche from Mexico was given to us as a 25th wedding anniversary present. We lived then in Indonesia, and many of our friends were expats who had lived around the world. The couple who gave it had names similar to ours and the gift tag read “A Mary and Joe from Mary and Joe to Mary and Joe!’
Thinking of Mary and gentle Joseph as simple Joe and Mary somehow gives another dimension to these little nativity figures. seeing my sweet granddaughters as they laugh and cry and run to hug me helps me give flesh to Mary , too. In her innocence, trust, and willingness to say yes to what seemed impossible, she modeled for me the miraculous outcome of being surprised by God. This touches me in a way that none of the Madonna masterpieces in all of art history.
Yes, we have seen the studies, sepia strokes
across yellowed parchment, the fine detail
of hand and breast and the fall of cloth –
Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Titian, El Greco, Rouault – each complex madonna plotted at last
on canvas, layered with pigment, like the final
draft of a poem after thirty-nine roughs.
But Mary, virgin, had no sittings, no chance
to pose her piety, no novitiate for body or
for heart. The moment was on her unaware;
the Angel in the room, the impossible demand,
the response without reflection. Only one
word of curiosity, echoing Zechariah’s How?
The teen head tilted in light, the hand
trembling a little at the throat the candid
eyes, wide with acquiescence to shame and glory –
“Be it unto me as you have said.”
from Accompanied by Angels, Poems of the Incarnationn, by Luci Shaw