Saturday, August 29, 2015

Blowin' in the Wind: Rainer Maria Rilke

(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.)

I want to free what waits within me
so that what no one has dared to wish for
may for once spring clear
without my contriving.
If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,
but this is what I need to say:

May what I do flow from me like a river,
the way it is with children --
no forcing, no holding back.

Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,
I will sing you as no one ever has,
streaming through widening channels
into the open sea.

~~Rainer Maria Rilke            

For many years I’ve run across quotations in larger writings from the pen of poet Rainer Maria Rilke, have often even received or sent art cards featuring lines from his work. It finally got me to thinking: who is this guy who so often seems to reflect contemplations from the depths of my spirit? And so I long ago determined I needed some day to track down a bit of his work and spend some time with it, and, the present being a time of personal sabbath, I thought this could be that time. I 
                                                                                 did not have to look far.

I casually asked my older sister, with whom Gail and I often stay in Chicago, if she was familiar with Rilke. “Oh, certainly,” said Carolyn, “I have several of his books,” and she soon proceeded to lay a half dozen before me. I chose Letters to a Young Poet, one I recall having often seen referenced, and another, unique to him that my sister liked, a novel, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. (He wrote far more poetry than fiction, though this one is somewhat autobiographical.) They have been enjoyable reads.

Rilke was born in 1875 and wrote during the first quarter of the 20th Century; he lived a fairly eccentric life as a poet artist, often surrounded by others of Bohemian lifestyle. As a devout Catholic, however, Christian themes dominate his work. Interestingly, New Age and self-help genres have often picked up his material, though I am, of course, not a fan of these genera. He died relatively young, of leukemia in 1925.

The above quotation is an excerpt from Rilke’s Book of Hours, a modern translation of his original The Book of Hours, published in 1905. The passage, which I ran into earlier this summer in yet another book, catches me during a personal season of unique life transition; it speaks firmly to me of the yearning to release into God’s hands total control of one’s life and work, as waters emptying into a sea. Of course, for the Christ follower this ought not be a seasonal yearning at all, but rather a life-long pursuit. Yet there are times of extraordinary change in one’s life where this simple longing seems more acute. Such is this time for me. Nothing in particular is ‘rocking my world,’ as they say, I just sense something significant happening as I look to a new season.

May you yearn in a like manner! May you be freed to let God’s fullness of life flow through you (Psalm 16:11, John 10:10), without forcing, childlike, that even in the midst of life’s perturbations, you might find yourself singing more and releasing more into God’s amazing and expansive grace.

~~RGM, August 29 2015

Saturday, August 15, 2015

POTM...*: Something to Die for in Alaska

(*Photo of the Month)

I am homeward bound tonight on a flight from Alaska, having this week delivered back to Anchorage our two oldest grandchildren, nine and six, following their too-brief summer Grandma and Grandpa visit. Alaska, what a place! If you’ve never been to the 49th State, get it on your to-do list if it at all possible.

Years ago while our children were all still in elementary and junior high school, Gail and I enjoyed our first vacation there. It was 1992, and we visited my airman brother Cully and his family who had gone there upon assignment to Elmendorf Air Base; he consequently made Alaska his home for the remainder of his life. Since our daughter and her family moved there in 2005 to assume a ministry call, we’ve been blessed to get there at least annually, and Kate and Phil seem desirous of following Uncle Cully’s pattern. Time will tell. But it was way back in ’92 when my brother and sister-in-law took us all up to the Eagle River Nature Center of the Chugach State Park for a picnic, and we were introduced to the amazing life cycle of salmon. On that brief interpretive boardwalk along the upper Eagle River headwaters, I saw a series of markers I’ve never forgotten. So this week I asked my daughter if we might go there as time allowed and see those interpretive signs again if they were still there. They were.

The Eagle River is one whose headwaters run unobstructed to the ocean, and as with many streams between Alaska and Oregon, the varied salmon species begin their lives in those headwaters: of every batch of eggs laid down -- four thousand eggs by a healthy female -- only two individuals return successfully after their dangerous and long lives to congregate with others, perpetuate the species and then die. Say nothing of the navigation skills required to perform this feat. (How do they do it? Earth magnetism? Sense of smell? Simple memory?) I was simply moved by the math twenty-three years ago, and still am. Here is the breakdown:
-- A healthy but dying female lays four thousand eggs in a nest called a redd, which are fertilized by a healthy but dying male and then covered up in light sand and gravel. About eighteen hundred are lost to disease and disturbance. About twenty-two hundred hatch in a few weeks, and the hatchlings, called alevins, remain buried for three months living off their yolk sacs. Of these, another eighteen hundred are lost to bird and fish predation.
-- Of the original number, only 400 fry eventually emerge from the sand, but 360 of these are eaten by birds, fish and each other. This leaves merely forty, called smolt, who make it to the sea.
-- In saltwater the fish grow quickly, with the various species maturing in two to six years. Of the forty that make it to the ocean, eighteen on average become food for whales, seals, sea lions, porpoise and other fish, and eighteen more are caught commercially.
-- This leaves four of the original number who return to the stream of their birth. Two of these will be caught and eaten by bears, eagles and humans, and two will remain to find the headwaters and spawn another four thousand eggs.

Isn’t that amazing? Seeing it put this way is not only interesting to me but sobering, provoking a thoughtfulness that only increases my respect for and love of life. Every life cycle is a precious thing, life itself always priceless. You and I have a life cycle as well, yet it is one with a difference: we can be homeward bound for eternity. Jesus said, "Listen carefully: unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground... it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds onto life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you'll have it forever, real and eternal (John 12:24-25, MSG)."

Before I close this week, let me say something about the four photos below:
1, The first looks east up the glacial valley from the Eagle River headwaters toward the snowpeaks and glaciers that provide the river’s frigid initial flowage.
2, The second is a pond eddy along the way; it is difficult to see, but you may notice a red tinge in the nearside of the pond, a teeming school of salmon pausing in their up-current, final migration. Salmon are silver in the ocean, but their entry back into freshwater at life’s end slowly changes their color to a deep red as their vitality ebbs. By this time, they have already stopped eating and are intent on only one thing, getting where they need to go and taking care of business.
3, The third shows several salmon working their way upstream under a boardwalk vantage point. I’m not sure what species they are, but imagine my son-in-law Phil could tell me.
4, The fourth presents a friend we watched fishing for about a half hour, back in that pond from photo two, a brown (or grizzly) bear in the wild. It was about forty yards away, and seemed way more intent on the fish than on those of us watching from the boardwalk. Besides, if it had come our way, I’d’ve had opportunity to test out the proverbial joke, only needing to outrun the slowest runner…

~~ RGM, August 15 2015

Saturday, August 8, 2015

From My Nature Journal: I-Thou

I do not often try my hand at poetry, perhaps once in a blue moon. OK, OK, perhaps once in several blue moons. (Permit me to digress. Do you know what a blue moon actually is? Some call the monthly new moon a blue moon; though it may seem ‘blue’ as the night sky to us at that time, new moon is simply the time our natural satellite lies roughly between the earth and sun in its twenty-nine day earth orbit, and from our vantage point does not reflect sunlight. But a blue moon? Other common thought is that a blue moon is the second full moon in the same calendar month, an errant definition given by a popular science magazine in the mid-20th Century. But it gets much more interesting than that: the historic definition of blue moon is actually the third moon in a single season that contained four full moons. At a time when people counted agricultural and animal migration seasons by lunar cycles, it stands to reason that a moon cycle of twenty-nine days did not neatly fit into the actual 365-day, twelve-month calendar year; keeping an annual calendar by twelve lunar cycles would throw seasonal anticipations significantly off in a very short time. Simple people had to make allowances for this. The annual clock could more easily be reset by solar time; but occasionally there had to be a ‘betrayer’ moon in a season that needed to be disregarded in order to get critical timing correct upon which life provision would depend. An early word for betrayer was ‘belewe.’ Whichever of these last two definitions we use, with a moon’s twenty-nine day cycle compared to thirty and thirty-one day calendar months, ‘belewe moons’ happen on average once every 2¾ years.)

So, as I was saying before my short attention span took control, writing poetry is not my forte (and maybe that's why poetry is not my forte...). But I once read in an old spiritual classic the line -- I the brook, thou the spring -- and determined at some point to give greater thought to that idea. Was it a Rainer Maria Rilke line? I cannot recall. But here is what resulted, not all nature images to be sure, but enough to be appropriate to my nature blog.

I the brook, Thou the Spring
I the journey, Thou the Path
I the known, Thou the Mystery
I the warmed, Thou the Fire
I the spoken, Thou the Word
I the seen, Thou the Seer

I the leaf, Thou the Root
I the breath, Thou the Life
I the sound, Thou the Source
I the beam, Thou the Light
I the borne, Thou the Bearer
I the grateful, Thou the praised

I the sail, Thou the Wind
I the vessel, Thou the Filling
I the thought, Thou the Mind
I the clay, Thou the Hand
I the wing, Thou the Lift
I the moment, Thou the Ever

I the lantern, Thou the Oil
I the deed, Thou the Will
I the image, Thou the Artist
I the breaker, Thou the Tide
I the held, Thou the Holder
I the mite, Thou the Expanse

I the fruit, Thou the Vine
I the cherished, Thou the Love
I the act, Thou the Force
I the gleam, Thou the Gem
I the protected, Thou the Shelter
I the eye, Thou the Vision

I the sustained, Thou the Food
I the chased, Thou the Pursuer
I the object, Thou the Subject
I the void, Thou the Fullness
I the faint, Thou the Strength
I the question, Thou the Answer

~RGM, from an earlier entry
in my nature journal