Wednesday, March 31, 2021

From My Nature Journal: A Bloom for the Season

It's called a pasqueflower, a lovely of the high plains, mountain states and north.

Among the very first wildflowers of spring when we lived in the foothills of Colorado, pasqueflowers sometimes even pushed up through snowcover. I took this photo in very early spring some time back. As a cold weather flower, they tend to stay close to the ground, about six inches tall, and often can be found as in this photo in drier, rocky areas that hold the warmth of the late winter sun.

Sometimes confused with tulips, it’s also called the Prairie Crocus, May Day Flower, and appropriately, Easter Flower: those of you who perceive the etymology of words might have guessed the latter. Pasque comes from paschal: ‘of, or relating to, Easter or Passover.’ Picking up on the symbolism within the Jewish celebration of Passover, where a lamb’s blood protected the Hebrew people from the ravages of death (see Exodus 12), Jesus, in 1 Corinthians 5:7, is referred to as our Passover, or paschal, lamb. Though there are other flowers also associated with the blood of Christ (the Rose and Bleeding Heart among them), the Pasqueflower is associated with Easter by the timing of the season.

And so, with those redeemed of Christ throughout nearly two millennia, we pray: 

O Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.

O Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.

O Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world, grant us Your peace.

Interestingly, though the plant is full of toxins, its derivatives can be used medicinally for birthing/labor issues and certain vision impairments. These uses offer all kinds of possibilities for further spiritual symbolisms, connecting Easter life to our circumstances, if we wanted to go that route.

Finally, kudos to the State of South Dakota and the Canadian Province of Manitoba, both of which had the creative presence of mind to name the Pasqueflower their state/provincial bloom, though known there by different names.

~~ RGM, March 31 2021

Friday, February 26, 2021

From My Nature Journal: Uitwaaien

Ebey's Landing State Park beach, bluff in background
Had a white-knuckle winter walk at dusk last evening along the beach at Ebey’s Landing State Park -- stinging winds, fifty and sixty mile-per-hour blasts, car-sized waves, gale warnings on sea, high wind warnings on land. Recalling similar balance-challenging walks like that from butte tops in central Colorado, gusts seemed to penetrate through my body, clothes flapping, ears splitting, skin tingling. As long as I’m safe from hypothermia, I’ve always experienced winds like this as exhilarating, refreshing, even spirit cleansing.

Who knew that the Dutch had a word for that, and with characteristic vowel-rich Dutchness to boot!

I receive a daily word of the day on my phone from, and it surprises me, for an English language dictionary, how often these can be foreign-language terms. I’ve certainly never heard most of them in conversation! The word is uitwaaien, only three consonants in the nine letters. Wouldn’t THAT be a way to use up all those vowels at the end of a Scrabble game! 

First, try pronouncing it. Uitwaaien. 

If you came up with out-vine, you’d be correct. I wasn’t even close. And here’s the definition: the Dutch practice of jogging or walking into the wind, especially in the winter, for the purpose of feeling invigorated while relieving stress and boosting one’s general health. I can’t say that I disagree with the concept at all. But does that mean that the return walk is stressful and depressing? Probably not, just watch your balance, especially on a bluff or cliff trail. 

Last night, as often before, the powerful impression for me as a Jesus-follower is wind as the piercing breath of God’s Holy Spirit, blowing through me, flowing through me, enlivening, quickening, enervating, purging. “The breath of heaven,” I say. Some would say, “It’s just wind!” On the contrary, with this I do disagree, having often experienced the synergies of spiritual realities and natural wonders. Why ever would one think that God doesn’t routinely communicate through both the simple and grand things of his natural world? God is an artist, a master designer, with much to teach through his works. 

In this particular case, I’m reminded of the words of an old hymn:

Breathe on me, breath of God.

Fill me with life anew,

That I may love what Thou dost love

And do what Thou wouldst do.

Breathe on me, breath of God

‘Til I am wholly Thine,

Until this earthly part of me

Glows with Thy fire divine.

~~ Edwin Hatch, 1878

The NOAA high wind warning last evening has downgraded to an advisory overnight, but perhaps I’ll get out later today for another go at it, and this time maybe even go up the bluff, careful for my footing.

Get outside. Or, shall I say, “Get uitwaaien.” My mother always said there was a little Dutch in us kids anyway.

~~ RGM, February 26, 2021

Thursday, January 7, 2021

From My Nature Journal: Are You Afraid of the Dark?

Are you afraid of the dark? Fear of the dark is a natural and normal fear in child development, but there are some for whom this fear is more intense or long-lasting. Nyctophobia is the technical term for an excessive fear of this type, one that can sometimes cause severe and irrational repercussions of anxiety or depression in one’s everyday life. 

Now, the truth is that there are two kinds of darkness, the literal kind and the figurative sort. Both have potential impact for excessive fear. On the figurative side, you and I have been witness to both reasonable and irrational fear in our experience of 2020’s triple whammy: the pandemic and its very real losses, the appropriate and inappropriate social unrest surrounding calls for racial justice, and our contentious national election and its aftermath. But these fears do not necessarily evaporate with the change of a calendar page, much to the disagreement of many recent pundits and wishers. There is nothing fundamentally magical about the change from 11:59pm on December 31 of one year to 12:01am on January 1 of the next, except in our minds; and the latter is not necessarily a bad thing at all. We need hope. We need fresh starts. I would even go so far as to say that one cannot live healthily without these. They can even be gifts from God.

It is not lost on me that yesterday, January 6, 2021, a day of infamy in our nation’s capitol, was also the Day of Epiphany in the Church Year. Epiphany takes place on the 12th Day of Christmas. It is not the day to receive the gift of ‘twelve drummers drumming’ and the vast human and animal menagerie that goes along with it. Epiphany is the supreme culmination of the celebration of the birth of Christ, and moves us from what might seem to some an idyllic world of cooing baby, young parents, a manger, animals and enthusiastic shepherds, to the very real and dramatic world of truth-seeking, political intrigue, injustice and tragedy represented in the story of the Magi, and that story’s aftermath. Sounds like our world, doesn’t it? That’s because it is. (See Matthew 2:1ff, and please don’t stop at verse 12.) A full understanding of Epiphany moves us away from what might seem the cuddly part of the story -- though the incarnation actually taking place here is in outright contrast to any fluffy sentimentalism – to the realization that this child is now the absolute and definitive Light of the world, Light TO the world, Light FOR the world. And we need that Light, especially in times of darkness.

Which brings me back to yesterday. It is yet another time when I realize how ashamed I can be of this country I love. Darkness has followed into 2021.

It is yet another time when I

realize how ashamed I can

be of this country I love.

But it also makes me realize our need for Epiphany, our need for the light of Christ, but also our need to be the light of Christ in our world. Did you realize that of all Jesus’ great ‘I am’ statements -- I am the Way, I am the Bread of Life, I am the Good Shepherd, etc. – of all these fantastic statements, did you realize that ‘light of the world’ is the only one that Jesus also reflects back (yes, reflects back) upon us? Jesus is the Light of the world. But Jesus also tells us that is what we are. 

Can you and I be light in the darkness? I guess that depends how afraid of the dark we are. 

I learned a new word from our pastor this past Sunday. As a missionary he has been immersing himself for several years in the Scandinavian languages, and shared a word from the Icelandic tongue. The word is rothljos, though I cannot pronounce it, cannot write it in the funky alphabet that Iceland uses, and perhaps have not even gotten the corresponding English spelling correct. But the definition of the word, such an appropriate word for this extreme northern island nation, is ‘all the light that’s necessary,’ or ‘enough light to find your way.’

All the light that’s necessary! Enough light to find your way! I SO like that word’s image, and can come up with nothing in English that approximates it. Iceland is nearly a sun-forsaken place in the dead of winter. Though you may know that Greenland and Iceland are misnamed and should actually switch appellations -- in other words, that Greenland is the real iceland and Iceland far greener than Greenland – Iceland is still a pretty cold place. It’s daylight lasts barely four hours when the solstice turns, and the sun is so low in the sky as to give negligible temperature relief. But as for habitability, Iceland possesses all the light that’s necessary for a people to still thrive. 

You and I can have this sense of panic that there is not enough light of Christ to go around. But there is enough, always enough. We can let the recent darkness swallow us. But even in you and me, God’s sons and daughters, there is enough of Christ’s reflection to go around, always enough. It’s why the Bible says God’s word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path: no matter how dark the surroundings, the light will always go where we go, and can even be a foretaste, a foretelling, of a greater light to come. As our pastor said: when the road is dark, what choice do we have? We have the choice to affirm that Jesus is always enough light to find our way by. 

And, I would add, enough to share…

Where is God in all this darkness? I recently became acquainted with another Taizé song, the title of which, in French, is La Ténèbrae (The Darkness). The Taizé Community shares a lovely and meditative form of worship singing that can touch some at their core. It is often done in full harmony but can certainly be done more simply. Here is a rendition, its hopeful lyrics based on Psalm 139:12: “Our darkness is never darkness in your sight, the deepest darkness bright as the daylight.” This pairs well with the Advent text from Isaiah 9:2, a prophetic text fulfilled in the person of Jesus and shared as an Epiphany text in Matthew 4:16: The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those living in the land of deep darkness, on them a light has dawned.

Light a candle, dear people. God’s invitation is here both to see and to do God’s work in this world, even in the midst of its darkness. So light a candle. It will be enough.

~~ RGM, January 7, 2021