Friday, November 28, 2014

POTM...*: Finally Christmas!

(*Photo[s] of the Month)

In our home, my dear and otherwise good wife doesn’t allow Christmas music to be played until the day after Thanksgiving, says she wants to keep it special and not get tired of it before Christmas rolls around. Never mind that we might not be home long enough during Advent to listen to Handel’s Messiah all the way through. Me? I’d play it all year ‘round if I had my druthers, at least from our own recordings, as the only thing I tire of are the cheesy tunes the radio tries to pass off as Christmas music.

So here it is the day after Thanksgiving and I’ve already kicked off the morning with Messiah Part 1 Scene 1 and Mannheim Steamroller. It has put me into enough of the holiday spirit that I decided it was time to share as my photo of the month a couple seasonally-fitting images I took while hiking in Florida earlier this year.

I was simply checking out the plants among the dunes at Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge, on the east coast north of Palm Beach, and what should I come across but a small, wild poinsettia! It bore little resemblance to the cultivated variety used everywhere in
seasonal displays, what with their enormous red bracts and all, so I didn’t make the connection at first. But soon the light went on and I let out an, “Oh wow, look what’s here!” Though the close-ups below make them look larger than they were, the bracts were actually very small, perhaps a half-inch in length. So it was its unique leaf that clinched the recognition.

Only in researching them now do I find that the red bracts are always small like this in uncultivated form – it’s only a manipulated, grafted variety that gets large and showy. Poinsettias are native to Mexico and Central America, and grow in the wild into shrubs or small trees. This particular plant or its seeds may have come in as a cutting on some storm, blown ashore with other jetsam. The typically red ‘blooms,’ as you may know, are not the flower petals at all; the flowers are the tiny, tiny yellow blooms that barely catch our attention. And concern that the plant is poisonous? It actually only has very mild toxicity.

Cultivated poinsettias, of course, are wildly popular as Christmas decorations in the U.S., growing so in Europe as well, but this is a relatively recent development. Though the plant’s association with Christmas goes back several hundred years to rural Mexico (with the bracts only turning their color as night-time dark fully lengthens near December’s winter solstice), it took an enterprising German immigrant family from California by the name of Ecke, in the mid 1900’s, to popularize them there; having first sold them from street stands this time of year, the family also perfected the graft technique that enlarged the show of red color. And with the combination of the red color, indicative as it may be of the color of the shed blood of Jesus Christ, and the pointy leaves, which some characterize as expressive of the star over Bethlehem, it was only a matter of time before its marketing would permeate the seasonal culture. And what could be bad about that, beautiful as it is?

Jesus said, “Walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them! And if God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers, don’t you think he’ll also attend as well to you? So steep yourself in God-reality… You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.” (Matthew 6:28-30,33, MSG)

Be reminded of God’s attention and intention toward you! Have a blessed Advent!

~~RGM, November 28, 2014

Friday, November 21, 2014

Blowin' in the Wind: A Psalm for Thanksgiving!

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

Psalm 148

1   Praise the LORD!
     Praise the LORD from the heavens,
     praise Him in the heights!
2   Praise Him, all His angels,
     praise Him, all His hosts!

3   Praise Him, sun and moon,
     praise Him, all you shining stars!
4   Praise Him, you highest heavens,
     and you waters above the heavens!

5   Let them praise the name of the LORD!
     For He commanded and they were created.
6   And He established them for ever and ever;
     He fixed their bounds which cannot be passed.

7   Praise the LORD from the earth,
     you sea monsters and all deeps,
8   fire and hail, snow and frost,
     stormy wind fulfilling His command!

9   Mountains and all hills,
     fruit trees and all cedars!
10 Beasts and all cattle,
     creeping things and flying birds!

11 Kings of the earth and all peoples,
     princes and all rulers of the earth!
12 Young men and maidens together,
     old men and children!

13 Let them praise the name of the LORD,
     for His name alone is exalted;
     His glory is above earth and heaven.
14 He has raised up a horn for His people,
     praise for all his saints,
     for His people who are near to Him.
     Praise the LORD!

For three thousand years, the Psalms have been the time-tested songbook for the people of God. Psalm 148 is one of the Hallelujah Psalms, and its message is simple: all created things in both heaven and earth give God praise! Nothing holds back! Verse one starts it out: Praise the Lord from the heavens! And verse seven picks up the antiphony: praise the Lord from the earth! Together, all of creation redounds to gratitude. This seemed to me appropriate to share on my blog this week, not only as a proclamation of praise for Thanksgiving Day, but as a declaration of faith for every single day of our lives!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration!
~~RGM, November 21, 2014

Saturday, November 15, 2014

QOTM...*: Augustine of Hippo

(*Quote of the Month)

People travel to wonder at the majestic
height of the mountain, the huge waves
of the sea, the long courses of the rivers,
the vast compass of the ocean, the
circular motion of the stars. Yet they
pass by themselves without wonder.

                                                                                                ~~St. Augustine

People who love nature are sometimes criticized for seeming to value the creation higher than they value persons, whom the Bible says are the crown of God’s creation. On the contrary, the nature lovers I have known have by and large also been lovers of people, and yet it can be true that some do exactly what Augustine says.

The truth? There is nothing more impressive or more remarkable in God’s order than man and woman, girl and boy.

Augustine of Hippo is a saint of the church who lived from 354-430 A.D. Having had a dramatic conversion to the Christian faith from profligacy (I told my Bible study group I’d find some way to use that word this week, so there you have it!), he became one of Christianity’s foremost foundational theologians and an important early philosopher of western culture. His books Confessions and City of God remain two of the most important books in the history of Christianity. And, in the category of odd, he finds himself in Catholic tradition the patron saint of printers, theologians, numerous cities, the alleviation of sore eyes (!), and, maybe having something to do with the eyes thing, of brewers! I don’t know if that includes the brewers from Milwaukee… I’ll leave that clarification to my Sconnie son-in-law and nephew.

Personally, as to the temptation to ‘pass by themselves without wonder,’ I just cannot do that. There are numberless ways in which I am both humbled and undone by my contemplation of the beauty of the human spirit, and by the preciousness of people, not only the familiar ones God has placed most closely into my life, but all the good people with whom I have served, and even the nameless legions I encounter on a busy weekend day in the park or in the rush of a downtown Chicago workday.

So then, just because I can (and because I’m on this subject), I share with you today the wonder of those closest to me, my family. They exemplify for me a counterpoint to Augustine’s words, and testify to the truth of Psalm 136:4 – “…(God) alone does great wonders, for his steadfast love endures forever.” They are, and always will be, a wonder to me.

~~RGM, November 14, 2014

Saturday, November 8, 2014

From My Nature Journal: All Who Are Thirsty

Chihuahuan Desert
We took a hike last week in the Chihuahuan Desert of New Mexico and ran out of water along the way. It wasn’t a problem at all: we were nearing the end of our trek by the time the water was low and drained our nalgenes with that knowledge. But we did continue long enough to become somewhat thirsty before finishing.

It has caused me since then to do some thinking about true thirst. I’m not sure I’ve ever been thirsty or dehydrated to a point of danger, though there have been many times I’ve been thirsty to discomfort. In fact, altitude sickness here in Colorado or other high places first seems to manifest itself in low-grade head achiness before it turns to nausea; visitors and natives alike do well to simply drink a lot more water than they may be used to in order to avoid it completely. Actually, they say that when one hikes in arid areas carrying ample water (minimum two quarts per day), one should keep ahead of their thirst: in other words, they should drink smaller amounts often, before any inclinations of thirst even present themselves. (This concept would really preach!!!) Gail is much better at that than I; usually I don’t even think of it, then get thirsty and drain half a bottle in two quick gulps. Or if she and I are only out on our regular three-mile exercise circuit, I’ll just drink hers, which can annoy her.       : )

I’ve read of people who’ve died while hiking the desert, most typically the inexperienced who leave their car at some remote parking area in an expansive southwestern public park, and either lose their way as they hike or bite off more than they can chew. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that they take on more than they can swallow.

But it’s the feeling of thirst I am trying to think about today, because, wouldn’t you know, the Bible has something to say about that… What would it be like to desire God’s presence MORE than one would even desire water while in danger of dying of thirst? Psalm 42 says. “As the deer longs for the water brooks, so my soul longs for You, O God.” Or again, Psalm 63, “God, I will earnestly seek You. My soul thirsts for You… as in a dry and weary land where there is no water…”

What would it be like to desire
God’s presence MORE than one
would even desire water while
in danger of dying of thirst?

Let’s get into it a bit. Consider the many words that can denote thirst or dryness, and think about them as you do. Thirsty. Dried. Dehydrated. Arid. Shriveled. Scorched. Burnt. Baked. Sweltered. Waterless. Sere. Desiccated. Unslaked. Dry as a bone. Dry as dust. Parched. Hot. Blistering. Scalded. Searing. Sizzling. Scorched. Famished. Blazing. Barren. Bone-weary. Weak. Deserted. Faint. Desolate. Bleak. Inhospitable. Singed. Forbidding. Drought. Wilted. Torched. Forlorn. Blistered. Forsaken. Kindled. Evaporated. Withered. Blighted.

Just reading them over now makes me need to lick my lips. Or go ahead, try whistling after you read them. They’re enough to make one want to go right to the faucet or fridge this moment and wet one’s whistle.

Physical thirst is one thing. Spiritual thirst is similar, but is another. Thinking of physical thirst helps me imagine my need for God, helps me know that my spiritual thirst can and will indeed be satisfied. Jesus and St. Peter promise it (John 4:14 and Acts 3:19): 
“…Whoever drinks of the water I (Jesus) will give him will never thirst again… but will become in him a wellspring, a river springing up to eternal life... So turn… that there may come times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.”

I like the song:

All who are thirsty, all who are weak:
Come to the fountain. Dip your heart in the stream of life.
Let the pain and the sorrow be washed away
In the waves of His mercy, as deep cries out to deep:
“Come, Lord Jesus, come.”

Or one from my youth:

And Jesus said, “Come to the water, stand by my side.
I know you are thirsty: you won’t be denied."

~~ RGM, November 6, 2014,
from a journal entry a couple months back