I keep a small basket of smooth stones, each marked with a word, on the back porch which I use like prayer beads. Somehow, as I lift a stone and place it beside me with a prayer for each thing the word I have written there represents, I am able to focus more sharply and receive these gifts. I keep the same list by the coffee pot in the kitchen and can cover it with the palm of my hand in my petition. Laying the stones down is a random process, so I am drawn to the pattern on this particular day when I look at all of them together. I begin with seeking Light and the progression leads me to the most important request, “Thyself.” I realize that if I could have only one request it must be that, for it is in the presence of God I find the all the rest.
The poetry of John O Donahue helps me imagine he might have had a basket of stones, too.
A book which is now considered a classic children’s book of the twentieth century, Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett was published as a novel in 1911. Its story, full of loss and gain, tragedy and triumph develops as children and a garden grow and change. There have been a number of productions produced for movies and television which bear the name and tell the story. But the movie version created in 1949 is the one which lives in my memory. I was 9 years old, and not allowed to see many films. The scene which so impressed me was one of sudden change. Almost the entire film is in stark black and white. The scene in which the door to the garden is opened to reveal the beauty of the garden in vivid Technicolor created a breathtaking moment. Little girls weren’t the only ones to gasp.
It is only these many years later that I am understanding that I was far more than entertained by this. In this story, it is only as Mary begins to think of others rather than herself that she became more than a spectator of the garden. As her perception as well as her vision changed, the garden became more beautiful.
This photo is a sign in our garden that has become intertwined in a yellow climbing rose. It reminds me of that other Mary, and of the miracles created when I see beyond myself.
It is easy to fall prey to complaining these days when the temperature registers 105 and most people, animals, and plants slow their pace and wilt. I remind myself that the same blistering sun that sears my skin and makes getting into my truck seem like opening an oven door also flavors my herbs and ripens the figs on our tree. Lord, help me be alert to the yes in every day.
i thank You God for most this amazing day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today, and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing breathing any–lifted from the no of all nothing–human merely being doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
— from E.E. Cummings: Complete Poems 1904-1962, by e. e. cummings
“Perhaps the most important thing we bring to another person is the silence in us, not the sort of silence that is filled with unspoken criticism or hard withdrawal. The sort of silence that is a place of refuge, of rest, of acceptance of someone as they are. We are all hungry for this other silence. It is hard to find. In its presence we can remember something beyond the moment, a strength on which to build a life. Silence is a place of great power and healing.”
― Rachel Naomi Remen
After all these years, I am still learning to look before I leap and listen before I speak. The latter is often hard for me. Another’s outpouring of worry, angst, anger or sadness can make us think we are being asked for advice or to “fix it.” Many times, the need for just having someone to listen to what we need to say is greater than any verbal response we can make. I love sitting outside in our garden because it offers both solitude and silence. I also love sharing that space with others and feeling the quieting that comes to us both. The still silence speaks of the centering, settling presence of God.
At the beginning of a new year, I am not so much making resolutions as I am considering how I spent myself and a year’s worth of time in the year just past. That leads to choices about spending time and personal resource in the present. What do I need to keep or change in order for me to honor God, delight in His presence, and show my love to others in ever growing ways?
As I mulled these thoughts while packing away Christmas lights and garland, clearing table tops and starting the cleaning tasks which accompany taking down decorations, I saw the disappointing results of a gardening project I began around Thanksgiving. Every year, I enjoy placing Paperwhite Narcissus bulbs into containers with stones and water. They put down roots, send up green shoots, and always delight us with fragrant white blooms before Christmas. Most of the bulbs offered beginning shoots of green. Some grew a few inches. But none of them bloomed by Christmas, and in general failed to thrive. Now, only one bulb appears to have the small swelling at the base of its leaves that tells me a flower may eventually unfurl. I decided to remove the bulbs. That is when I discovered that they never grew any roots. Only the ones with more than an inch or two of leaf had grown the plump white roots which could reach down into the water for necessary nutrients. Beginning was all they did; then lacking roots and healthy growth they began to decay.
That was an epiphany moment for me. No matter how full I am of possibility and fresh starts, I can never grow if I am not rooted and absorbing the nourishment necessary to flourish. “Feeding myself” is never on a daily to do list. But I realize I have little to offer others if I don’t choose healthy foods and activity for my body as well as take the time to begin my days with quiet time which feeds and grows my soul. I love listening to a John Michael Talbot album called “Come to the Quiet” each morning. As I listen and worship, I am fed. My roots spread and deepen. I stretch and grow. I can bloom!
Sabbath is not just important to me. It is essential. I participate in Sabbath/Sundays, gathering with others to worship, being with family around the table, and setting times to rest at the beginning of the week. I have learned that I also need what I call Sabbath moments every day, part of my morning and evening rituals, but also those unexpected gifts of quiet awareness that come upon me and gift me me with deep peace.
“The room is quiet. You’re not feeling tired enough to sleep or energetic enough to go out. For the moment there is nowhere else you’d rather go, no one else you’d rather be. You feel at home in your body. You feel at peace in your mind. For no particular reason, you let the palms of your hands come together and close your eyes. Sometimes it is only when you happen to taste a crumb of it that you dimly realize what it is that you’re so hungry for you can hardly bear it. –Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC