Sunday, October 27, 2013

QOTM...*: Abraham Joshua Heschel

(*Quote of the Month)

It is easier to enjoy beauty than to sense the holy. To be able to encounter the spirit within beauty, however, we must learn to crave for an affinity with the pathos of God.

~~Abraham Joshua Heschel

Abraham Heschel (1907-1972) was a Polish-born American rabbi of the reform tradition, an author, philosopher, mystic, civil rights activist, and one of the leading Jewish theologians of the century. The quote is from one of his more famous books, God in Search of Man, which I read while in seminary. He also has a principal book on Sabbath called, appropriately, The Sabbath, which I read again recently and would recommend to any Christ follower wanting to deepen their understanding of sacred time and their practice of this first commandment.

Heschel insists, along with those of the Orthodox Christian tradition, that God is the source of all beauty, including that in nature, and that beauty can only be fully appreciated in a context in which one also integrates profound gratitude for
the Creator.

The Psalmist understood that notion as well: Great are the works of the Lord, pondered by all who delight in them! (Psalm 111:2)

May you sense kinship with God today, and may that relationship lead you to a deeper awe when you see something beautiful.

~~RGM, October 24, 2013

Sunday, October 20, 2013

POTM...*: Shopping in the Woods

(*Photo of the Month)

They’re called highbush cranberries, though they are not cranberries at all. We stumbled across the bright little fruits on a roadside one early fall day, took a sprig to ID them, then noted them again in a couple other marshy areas. Finally, we determined to get back to those spots later and do some harvesting – “shopping in the woods” as we like to call it – which Gail and I did last weekend with my sister and nephew.

A member of the honeysuckle family, they grow on shrubs 6-16 feet high and provide a winter-long food source for birds, though for some reason tend to be among the last berries eaten. As a result they can also be harvested long into winter, sometimes the more easily spotted in snowcover. And though not related to true cranberries, they taste amazingly like them made into sauces, syrup, jelly or juice, rich in vitamin C. Curiously, they give off a strange and unpleasant odor when being cooked, though one would never know it with the finished product; also interesting are their heart-shaped seeds, which Gail could not resist arranging photogenically on a paper towel.

So now the sauce is cooked up, canned, and awaiting the Thanksgiving table next month, one more thing among the myriad for which to be grateful.

“And the earth yielded grass, herbs yielding
seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit, 
with its seed in it, after their kind; and God
saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:12)

So did we.

~~RGM, October 19, 2013

Friday, October 11, 2013

From My Nature Journal: The Desert and Hope's Intimations

Saguaro NP, Arizona
Sometimes these guys have
persona: Hans or Franz?
The desert. It can be an unforgiving place, with razor-sharp margins to match its cactus’ prolific thorns. Often punishing and inhospitable, it can be an austere, life-sapping environment that can make one feel they are sucking hot air as through a straw, seeming to say, “Go away. Go far away. Get not close to me.” I hike for an hour before I even find a single spot to sit that combines a flat and open, semi-smooth space with a little apologetic shade from an ironwood tree.

Yes, there is a stark and awesome beauty here. But one had better bring along their own margins, their own safety-nets, their own protections – something that covers arms and legs from the unfriendliness of the flora, shades the head and skin from the merciless sun, hydrates the body from the moisture-sucking environment, and prepares one to be responsive to the defenses of the fauna, particularly if one is going to be out here for some time. Scorpions, snakes, lizards and stinging bugs are one’s companions.

And the periodic desert of the soul, how different? Perhaps not much at all. The draining oppression of the enemy can combine with a God Whose refreshing can veil itself so as not to be easily encountered… One must protect one’s self out here as well. Is God there somewhere? It seems He’s left the county, that the territory’s not big enough for the both of us, Pardner…

But there are moments in my wilderness wanderings where there are hints of God’s graces within seemingly unfriendly surroundings. Though there’s rarely a place to sit, let alone sit in the shade, intimations of hope are here if sought after, sometimes surprisingly so. On my third day of hiking I come across a relict sign that points to a spur trail; it simply says “Windmill.” Say what? Here? Someone’s idea of a joke? But just a short distance away, a windmill as relict as the sign looks absolutely out-of-place, still, silent. Yet as I stare, wondering of its history, a small breeze presents itself, the blades catch air, and the turbine slowly begins to turn, squeaking loudly. To my utter astonishment I soon hear a faint splash of water, a small pipe releasing water into a catch basin I had not seen in the underbrush. Upon further investigation I find the basin spilling over into a small rivulet that quickly disappears beneath the sand. But it’s there. Honeybees and small butterflies flit about and attest to it, taking advantage of the contrite oasis.

Sometimes it is only a tiny stream that is necessary to see for one to know that the desert will not stretch on forever. Sometimes a single word from God is all it takes to press on through the drought.

~~RGM, from an earlier journal entry after
hiking Saguaro National Park, Arizona,
adapted for my blog October 8, 2013

Friday, October 4, 2013

Blowin' in the Wind: St. Francis of Assisi

(Blowin’ in the Wind is a regular feature on my blog highlighting an assortment of nature writings – hymns, songs, prayers, Bible readings, poems or other things –pieces I have not written but that inspire me. I trust they will do the same for you.)

OK, friends, I made a mistake in last week’s blog! I had mentioned I’d be putting up something from my nature journal this time, but then looked through some notes I had written for myself to remember to do something special on October 4, so the nature journal entry will have to wait.

October 4, in Roman Catholic tradition, is the Feast Day of St. Francis, their patron saint of animals and the environment. Though I am of another Christian tradition, Francis still stands out for me as a hero of the faith, even an inspiration to my own love of God’s creation.

Back in January I wrote a blog entry about a great hymn based on Francis’ Canticle of the Sun, the hymn All Creatures of our God and King.  Hit this link if you’d like to see that post, which includes a contemporary rendition of the song by the David Crowder Band. But as I said, our more modern hymn is based off of the song text attributed to Francis as Canticle of the Sun, written in the year 1225. I have sometimes used Canticle as a closing prayer of praise when I have led Stations of Creation,” a resource about which I blogged in August. It is a wonderful prayer, simple and profound at the same time. I thought I would like to share it with you on Francis’ feast day.

Canticle of the Sun, A Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

Most high, all-powerful, all good, Lord!
All praise is Yours, all glory, all honor and all blessing.
To You alone, Most High, do they belong. No mortal lips
are worthy to pronounce Your name.

All praise be Yours, my Lord, through all that You have made,
and first, my Lord, Brother Sun, who brings the day and the
light You give to us through him. How beautiful is he,
how radiant in all his splendor! 
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.

All praise be Yours, my Lord, through Sister Moon and Stars;
in the heavens you have made them, bright and precious and fair.

All praise be Yours, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and fair and stormy, all the weather's moods,
by which You cherish all that You have made.

All praise be Yours, my Lord, through Sister Water,
so useful, lowly, precious, and pure.

All praise be Yours, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You brighten up the night.
How beautiful he is, how joyful, full of power and strength!

All praise be Yours, my Lord, through Sister Earth,
who feeds us in her sovereignty and produces
various fruits and colored flowers and herbs.

All praise be Yours, my Lord, through those who grant 
forgiveness for love of You, through those who endure 
sickness and trial. Happy those who endure in peace. 
By You, Most High, they will be crowned.

All praise be Yours, my Lord, through Sister Death,
from whose embrace no mortal can escape.
Happy those she finds doing your will!
The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give Him thanks,
and serve Him with great humility. Amen.

May this prayer be a feast of praise for you as it is for me.

~~RGM, October 4, 2013