Thursday, November 28, 2013

QOTM…*: An Unusual Thanksgiving Pairing -- From Piglet to Meister Eckhart

(*Quote of the Month)

OK, just for fun, here's an odd little pairing representing two of the great thinkers of the second millennium -- A.A. Milne's Piglet character from Winnie the Pooh, and Meister Eckhart, the 13th-14th Century Christian theologian and mystic:

Piglet noticed that even though he had
a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather
large amount of gratitude.
                                                     ~~A.A. Milne, 1928

If the only prayer you said was "Thank You,", that would be enough.

~~Meister Eckhart, 13th Century

Gratitude is in short supply these days, more uniquely so in our western, affluent culture. It’s almost as though Jesus’ words about abundance, “To whom much is given, much will be required,” could have been changed to, “To whom much is given, much will be forgotten.” Piglet’s large heart of gratitude and Eckhart’s minimalist prayer could go a long way in restoring the Thanksgiving requirement.

The old Thanksgiving hymn,  “We Plow the Fields and Scatter the Good Seed on the Land” was well-known in my younger days. The lyrics were also picked up in the popular Broadway musical play Godspellstill frequently being done today. The song’s most profound verse, in my estimation, is its last:

               We thank Thee then, O Father, for all things bright and good:
               The seed time and the harvest, our life, our health, our food.
               No gifts have we to offer for all Thy love imparts
               But that Thou most desirest: Our humble, thankful hearts.

Only one in ten of the lepers that Jesus healed returned to give him thanks (see Luke 17:11ff). Let’s up that percentage, shall we? Join us outside today giving thanks for God’s masterful creation!

Blessed Thanksgiving!
~~ RGM, November 28, 2013

P.S. Meister Eckhart is also quoted: “God is always at home. It is we who have gone out for a walk.” Hmmm… Not a bad idea…

Friday, November 22, 2013

Blowin' in the Wind: Psalm 65 -- Thanksgiving for Earth's Bounty

(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.)

                                   Psalm 65

               1)     What mighty praise, O God,
                              belongs to you.
                       We will fulfill our vows to you,
               2)            for you answer our prayers.
                       All of us must come to you. 
               3)     Though we are overwhelmed by our sins,
                              you forgive them all.
               4)     What joy for those you choose to bring near,
                              those who live in your holy courts.
                       What festivities await us
                              inside your holy temple.

               5)     You faithfully answer our prayers with awesome deeds,
                             O God our Savior.
                       You are the hope of everyone on earth,
                             even those who sail on distant seas.
               6)     You formed the mountains by your power
                             and armed yourself with mighty strength.
               7)     You quieted the raging oceans
                             with their pounding waves
                             and silenced the shouting of the nations.
               8)     Those who live at the ends of the earth
                             stand in awe of your wonders.
                        From where the sun rises to where it sets,
                             you inspire shouts of joy.

               9)     You take care of the                            earth and water it,
                       making it rich and                                fertile.
                       The river of God has                            plenty of water;
                       it provides a                                        bountiful harvest 
                       of grain, for you 
                       have ordered it so.
              10)    You drench the                                    plowed ground                                    with rain, melting 
                       the clods and 
                       leveling the ridges.
                       You soften the earth with showers
                             and bless its abundant crops.
              11)    You crown the year with a bountiful harvest;
                             even the hard pathways overflow with abundance.
              12)    The grasslands of the wilderness become a lush pasture,
                             and the hillsides blossom with joy.
              13)    The meadows are clothed with flocks of sheep,
                             and the valleys are carpeted with grain.
                             They all shout and sing for joy!

As you who read my blog already know, among the things for which I am most grateful is the gift of God’s creation. Gail and I spend a lot of time out there, and it never ceases to enliven our souls. To make matters even better, here in the Denver area the weather has stayed warm into late fall, and though the snow is accumulating a tad today, it will be a while before our hiking forays slow down even a little bit.

Psalm 65 will be a prayer of praise for us this Thanksgiving Day, gratitude to our good God who has indeed crowned the year with bounty. And we’ll try to get outdoors next Thursday as time and celebration allow to meet God in God’s great sanctuary. Join us out there, will you? While there, give thanks with us for what you see -- as the old hymn said -- for the beauty (and bounty!) of the earth, for the glory of the skies, and for the beloved ones around you.

Think outside… no box required!
~~RGM, November 21, 2013

P.S. Hope you’re also planning on getting outside late this month or early next to catch Comet ISON. No one knows how intense it may be as it makes its run by the sun, some say brighter than Venus, though some breaking up in the past few days has the comet boffins concerned. We’ll see. Personally, I will never forget watching Comet Hale-Bopp back in 1997, which at the time I thought might be the only comet I or my kids might ever see in our lifetimes.

P.P.S. Hey, I decided since I’d be hitting about fifty blogposts before long to prepare a subject index for these writings, and put it up just this week as a tab on the masthead above. It might be helpful if you are trying to find something you saw before. Check it out, and let me know how I might make it more user friendly.

Friday, November 8, 2013

POTM...*: The National Bird?

 (*Photo of the Month)

The national bird? At least that’s what Benjamin Franklin would have preferred, according to a letter to his daughter in 1784! Old Ben never had a chance to publicly advocate for it, though, as the bald eagle as a national symbol had grown in popularity while he was away in Paris serving as envoy to France. Certainly at Thanksgiving, however, it IS the national bird, with forty-five million of them eaten over the holiday – fully one sixth of all turkeys consumed annually in the U.S.

It’s an incredibly beautiful bird in the wild, though, is it not? And it has multiplied prolifically in recent decades. In fact, wild turkeys are the poster chicks of conservation success: nearly extirpated in North America in the early 1900’s, down to the last thirty thousand individuals, they have now rebounded to a population of well over seven million, thriving in all forty-eight of the contiguous states (though, according to a recent article in Audubon Magazine, there may be some challenges on the horizon, especially in the southeast). Gail and I have come across these amazingly adaptable creatures while hiking in both Michigan’s Northwoods and Colorado’s 
Rockies, and while car touring in Florida and
Washington. My father-in-law in Roscoe IL even draws flocks of them in regularly, just outside his living room window, by putting out corn. And though they bear little resemblance to the domesticated variety shown in the USDA photo, it is said that a breeding domestic pair, totally white, will have its offspring return to their full-color plumage within seven short generations. Still, I am grateful for turkey farms; my mouth is watering just thinking about Thanksgiving Day and the days of leftovers to follow!

Quiz time:
--Speaking of turkey farms, how large in weight does my Iowa turkey farmer friend raise his birds, 
               raising 150,000 of them per year?
--What are male and female turkeys called?
--What are baby turkeys called?
--What is a group of turkeys called?
--Do turkeys fly, or roost in trees? (answers found at the end of this post)

OK, back to founding father Franklin… Here is what he had to say about the turkey vs. eagle national symbol debate! Of the eagle, he said, “…he is a bird of bad moral character, he does not get his living honestly [stealing from other birds or eating carrion]… Besides, he is a rank coward: the little kingbird, not bigger than a sparrow, attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district.” But of the more noble turkey, he wrote, “…it is a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America… a bird of courage that would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British guards who should presume to invade his barnyard…”

Just think. If Franklin had gotten his way, we might today be calling an imbecilic person an eagle rather than a turkey, might celebrate a fantastic holing out on a golf course as a turkey rather than an eagle, might even have heard these famous words from the moon back in the late 60’s, “Houston…? The Turkey has landed.”

Finally, I suppose a turkey, cooked or uncooked, could serve as a suitable symbol for Thanksgiving. Anything that can help us call gratitude to mind would be a very good thing.

I will give thanks to you, Lord, with my whole heart. I will tell of your wonderful deeds. (Psalm 9:1)

~~RGM, November 5, 2013

P.S. The quiz? Male turkeys are called toms, and females, hens. Baby turkeys are called poults. And, though there is some debate, a group of turkeys is called a rafter, flock or gang. Yes, they fly, up to fifty-five miles per hour! And they do indeed roost in trees, which may be why a group of them is called a rafter. Lastly, my friend, Farmer Johnson in northwest Iowa, raises 45-50 pound birds that can do a person some serious damage if they wanted to! 

P.P.S. Did you pass?

Friday, November 1, 2013

From My Nature Journal: The Lesson of the Pancakes

I parked on the frontage road that paralleled the beach and scrambled down a fifteen foot pile of concrete riprap. On my way to catch a flight in Los Angeles, I found myself with a couple extra hours, so thought this spot on the ocean near Ventura a good place for some reading and prayer.  With the beach spread out like a blanket before me and waves breaking thirty yards away, I sat in the sand that cool November morning, leaned back against a sun-warmed chunk of cement, took off my shoes, and cracked open the little book.

It had been a long time that Henri Nouwen’s The Way of the Heart had sat on my shelf, though I had been looking forward to picking it up just as long. On my way out my office door several days earlier, I scanned my ‘to read’ pile for just a little tome to fit in an overfull briefcase, and it was an easy addition. It’s a brief book about desert spirituality, including the spiritual discipline of solitude, a commodity in short supply in my life. I had just read that one of the cardinal sins a person in solitude will struggle with is the sin of greed. Solitude is a kind of fast, and whenever we fast we are made starkly aware of the props we miss, the little luxuries we wish were available, and we come to realize how dependent we are on superfluous stuff. Solitude can bring us to that place of conversion where we can see how much our self worth has depended on what we have acquired, let this old greedy self die, and allow the new generous self to be born. But first we need solitude. The thing is, when we get there, we think we are alone. But suddenly this visitor named Greed comes pounding at the door. The task, Nouwen says, is to stay in solitude long enough that this unwelcome caller gets tired of knocking, goes away, and leaves us alone.

I sat there reading, resting, thinking, praying, the surf drowning out all sounds except the calls of gulls. I shut my eyes and lay my head back on the rock. All of a sudden there was the startling cacophonous sound of seagulls surrounding me and I opened my eyes with a start. Not ten feet away a dozen or so were fighting over some round object on the beach, scores more coming in overhead, screaming incessantly. Suddenly another dozen were struggling over another round, brown object just to the right of the first melee. Something whizzed past over my head from behind up above the riprap. Before I knew it more and more seagulls -- many species, large and small, young and old, several hundred -- 
were converging around me from all points. It felt like a Hitchcock movie.

Before I knew it, more and more seagulls -- 
many species, large and small,
young and old, several hundred --
were converging around me from all points.
It felt like a Hitchcock movie.

Behind me, from the parking area above the concrete, someone was pitching pancakes out onto the beach, gliding through the air like frisbees, to be met by the squabbling, screaming, pecking birds. Ten, twenty, thirty pancakes came sailing over my head, launched by persons unaware I was on the beach below. One bird would finally get hold of the tasty disc amidst the riot, fly away, and get only a few feet before the pancake would break and fall out of its beak, creating another mad dash of juking, feinting and grabbing on land and sea. I was mesmerized. The whole experience lasted about five minutes, whereupon I heard a motor start and a camper pull away.

Though I am unashamedly anthropomorphizing, I had a stark picture of what greed must look like to God, a parable asserting itself. One wants what another has, convinces himself that he needs it, and by aggression or subterfuge seeks to get it, only to lose it to another, and on and on it goes. The story was playing before me in real time and I prayed, “Lord, let me hold this image as I consider the effects of greed on my own spirit."

The beach became quiet again. Most of the birds were flying off but several dozen remained, standing quietly in the sand, perhaps licking their wounds (though they have no tongues), perhaps interiorly celebrating the pancake they got or bemoaning the one that got away. Then I remembered: at some point during the commotion something had landed quite close to me, not two feet away, hidden from my sight by a log. Had it just been a bird landing quickly, or was there one last pancake on the beach? I soon had my answer, for some of the birds standing nearest began to move toward me. One brave bird at a time would inch my way, look down at the spot, look up at me again, and look down again, take a hesitating step, two steps forward, one step back, but always forward, looking me in the eye as if to say, “You have what I want.” Several got within three feet, then took off, giving up. The birds were so close, their eyes so sharp in seeming to search mine, it was almost like I could see into their greedy little wills (ok, admitted anthropomorphism again). Finally, one advanced close enough to leap forward, snatch the last pancake and take flight, others lifting, chasing, crying from behind.

I had my picture, though, and I have not forgotten it: my loving, benevolent, gift-giving heavenly Lord, looking into my eyes, and sadly seeing the greed therein.

Lord, teach me the lesson of the pancakes.
~~RGM, from an earlier journal entry,
adapted for my blog November 1, 2013