Saturday, January 30, 2016

Blowin' in the Wind: In the Woods with Wendell Berry

("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 give me joy. I trust they’ll do the same for you.)

Some books take you where you want to be in the middle of a snowy winter, but can't easily make it there for the weather. Such a book to me is Wendell Berry’s A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997.

Some books take you where you want
to be in the middle of a snowy winter, but
can't easily make it there for the weather...

It is a collection of short pieces he wrote on or after Sunday walks on his Kentucky farm, and it’s filled with natural images and passions, deep environmental respect, and an ethic that reaches out and draws a person into ardent embrace of the land. One reviewer says his meditations here " a rich personal spirituality and affinity with the natural world," and yet I find the same holy reverence in his fiction as I do his poetry and essays; cases in point: Hannah Coulter, That Distant Land, and, one of my most favorite novels of all time, Jayber Crow.

I confess I’ve always struggled with poetry, but, interestingly, A Timbered Choir is a book that makes it easy for novices like me; yet it also invites more seasoned readers to its thoughtful woodlot saunters. I wrote once before on Berry, and will do so again, but you can find my previous blogpost featuring him by clicking this link, which will not only tell you a bit more about Berry himself but also shares another notable forest image.

The poems are without title, only separated by the year in which they were written and then numbered. Here is 1995, number 2, the complete poem. Let it take you to a place of peace and thoughtful repose.

The best reward in going to the woods
Is being lost to other people, and
Lost sometimes to myself. I'm at the end
Of no bespeaking wire to spoil my good;

I send no letter back I do not bring.
Whoever wants me now must hunt me down
Like something wild, and wild is anything
Beyond the reach of a purpose not it’s own.

Wild is anything that's not at home
In something else's place. This good white oak
Is not an orchard tree, is unbespoke,
And it can live here by it’s will alone,

Lost to all other wills but Heaven’s -- wild.
So where I most am found I'm lost to you,
Presuming friend, and only can be called
Or answered by a certain one, or two.

Of course, for me, that ‘certain one’ can only be the One I call the lover of my soul.

And here’s an excerpt from 1991, number 9.

To rest, go to the woods
Where what is made is made
Without your thought or work.
Sit down; begin the wait
For small trees to grow big,
Feeding on earth and light.
Their good result is song
The winds must bring, that trees
Must wait to sing, and sing
Longer than you can wait.
Soon you must go. The trees,
Your seniors, standing thus
Acknowledged in your eyes,
Stand as your praise and prayer.
Your rest is in this praise
Of what you cannot be
And what you cannot do.

In the midst of what seems my constant labor, I’ve often found the forest just the place of rest I need to help put all my work into perspective.

I pray you’ve enjoyed these.

~~ RGM, January 30, 2016

P.S. Each time I post to my blog, I send out an announcement of such on my Facebook page. Frequently there, I will ask my friends to consider sharing my post with others of their friends or family members whom they know may also find nature an important spiritual pathway to God. Let me place that request here for a change: do you know others, whether followers of Jesus or not, and perhaps particularly the latter, who find (or might find) these posts inspiring? Please consider sharing my site with them, I would treasure nothing more than that these words be shared as ongoing testimony to the creative glory of our good God. Thank you.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

From My Nature Journal: One Good Thing Leads to Another...

My grandbuddy, Wyatt...
Have you noticed? When a child discovers something that really catches their curiosity or wonder, they often look to their parent -- not as if to say, “What IS this?” -- but rather, “Wha…? LOOK at that! Do you see it, too?”

I often found this the case with my kids, nieces and nephews when they were young, and find it now with my grandchildren, grandnieces and nephews now that I am older, especially when we are outdoors. “Look, Grandpa,” one might say, “isn’t it beautiful?” And it might just be nothing but a nondescript moth, small toad or faded daisy. If it’s animate, however, and if it’s my grandson Wyatt we’re talking about, I can almost wager that he’ll follow this with, “He likes me! Can I take him home?” It makes me smile to think of this. He has even done it with earthworms, though I’m not sure what the signs of earthworm affection are that he seems to recognize so quickly… That doesn’t matter, though. For Wyatt and other curious children, the natural next inclination of discovery is often to share what has been experienced. For them, one good thing leads to another.

Again, the natural next inclination of discovery is to share what has been experienced.

It’s why I do this blog, of course, the enjoyment of sharing things I observe with others. None of it is rocket science; heck, it’s often not even good biological science, but there’s joy in the sharing just the same, as well as in the anticipation that another might find similar delight. I have no idea how many people are reading this blog, don’t trust at all the
accuracy of its tally feature. What I DO trust are the comments I hear from others, either personally or electronically, comments that tell me that something is connecting, that there’s something powerful at work out there, that others also find creation’s beauty, mystery and wonder a natural pathway to God. Sharing a discovery seems not so much to validate it, though there’s some of that, as to confirm its value in the heart of the observer, and to share something through which another may find similar value. So for me, as with young children, the next inclination of discovery or delight is to share what has been experienced.

The fourth chapter of the Gospel of John has a remarkable story about a seemingly outcast woman whom Jesus meets at a public well, a story that is one
of my favorites. The area is temporarily deserted, and it gives the woman and Jesus the chance to have the conversation of a lifetime. I won’t go into the details of the story or conversation, because it is an extremely enjoyable read for you to peruse yourself (John 4:1-42). But what almost stuns me is the eagerness by which this woman, perhaps shunned by so many respectable people for so long, takes a momentary break from the conversation with Jesus to hurry back to her town, Sychar, to share her discovery with her townsfolk and bring them back with her to meet this amazing man. Somehow, in spite of what she may have had going against her, even with all the rejection she had likely known, her first inclination was to share.

William Barclay says in commentary about this passage that no discovery is complete until the desire to share it fills our hearts. Do you agree with that? It seems to me that far too many seek to keep their discoveries to themselves, especially if there is gain of any kind in play. Maybe Barclay is just talking like an extrovert, a camp in which I find myself, though I’ve no idea if he was an extrovert or not.

Do you share your faith? I’m not talking the ‘four spiritual laws’ kind of sharing, though those laws are pretty darn good, and quite accurate. But, keeping it simple, like my grandson Wyatt  -- has your discovery so filled you that it cannot help but ooze out somehow in one way, shape or form? That would truly be one good thing leading to another.

No judgment. Just sayin’…
~~RGM, January 14, 2016

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Blowin' in the Wind: Prayer for a New Day and a New Year

("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 give me joy. I trust they’ll do the same for you.)

I ran across this lovely Celtic prayer several weeks ago, and thought it’d be a good New Year post. As you can see, it is framed as a morning prayer, but it could also stretch easily to fit a New Year theme.

Celtic spirituality focuses on several motifs, among them nature, journey and blessing. This prayer covers all three of these. With an apology for my inability to find its source, I yet commend it to you for the start of any new day.

A Celtic Morning Prayer

As the tide draws the water close in upon the shore,
These last hours You have made me an island, set apart,
Alone with You, God, holy to You.
Now with the turning of the tide,
Prepare me to carry Your presence to the busy world,
The world that rushes beyond You and upon me,
Until the waters come again and fold me back to You.
So often I hold too tightly to my belief.
May I plant faith patiently, calmly and untiringly
In the good ground of hungry hearts.

Blessed New Year!

~~ RGM, January 1, 2016