Balm to Wounded Hearts

April 18, 2020

In today’s paper I read an editorial by Wendy Paulson titled “Nature helps us heal and cope.”  Her words were beautifully crafted.  One sentence in particular spoke to me:  “Nature offers balm to wounded hearts, peace to troubled thoughts, light and life that outshine the darkness and the gloom of the daily news.”

Balm, peace, light and life.  Three families of my acquaintance could use some of that.  But only time can fully bring it.  Three families in pain.  Worlds shattered, lives turned strange, ground beneath them fragile.  One person lost his wife, one person lost her husband, one family lost a beloved son.  (None to the virus, not that it matters.)

And so, the vigil continues.  Nursing a slightly pulled back — I moved something I shouldn’t have — I reach for my best stationery and write some sympathy notes. My portion today of balm, peace, light and life.

In the meantime, the robin family outside my kitchen window is thriving. Two hard working parents. Three little fuzz-tops, beaks sticking hopefully skyward.  Each day they take up more room, and they’ve begun jostling and elbowing each other.

We’ve had a couple of windy days.  I was a little worried about the babies.  But then I remembered that robin nests are fortified with mud. “A mighty fortress is our nest, a bulwark never failing!  One day we’ll grow up and go forth and build our own.  No one will have to teach us, either — we’ll just know what to do.”

Long years ago I wrote an essay about robins.  It seems worth repeating!

American Robin

 

Just at first light, or a little before,

comes a caroling.

 

Sweet notes, simple and pure.

 

Not the ardent “cheer!” of the cardinal.

 

Not the jubilation of the jay, that blue bandit.

 

Not the mocker, whose repertoire this year

includes an especially fine “chickadee-dee-dee.”

 

 

No, here is the robin,

“a very familiar bird;

recognized by its gray back

and brick-red breast.”

 

American robin, sturdy fellow.

Commonly seen on grassy lawns.

Not too forward, not too shy.

 

In song, just a few short phrases, rising and falling.

Just a few sweet notes, simple and pure—

and robin has delivered his message.

 

Beyond that, he has little to say.

 

But all day long, his hard work speaks for him.

“Work, for the night is falling!”

 

I take his message, and try to apply it.

 

 

 

 

New Life

Saturday, April 11

I’ve been watching the back hedgerow, where ten stalks have risen from our Queens of the Nile, aka agapanthus.  Ten stalks, each topped with a bud.  They’re taking their time to bloom, which is part of the pleasure.

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As my attention has been trained on the above and on the usual backyard birds flashing about their usual activities,  I missed a major development in the magnolia tree just outside our east-facing kitchen window: stealth-robins have built a nest!  Didn’t know it till this morning when a movement caught my eye – mama rearranging herself on a pile of twigs, a structure just barely visible in the dense array of dark magnolia leaves.  Which makes sense.

Since then I’ve been spying on her, catching a flash of orange, a yellow bill glowing in the morning sun, alert black eye ringed with white. I’m imagining a clutch of blue eggs under her breast.

So much depends on her faithful tending and his faithful meal-providing.  Blessings, my dears.

 

For Holy Week, a New Poem

Isolation Oscillation – Bearing the Darkness

by me

 

My breath in my facemask fogs up my glasses

I’m just one of the many, one of the masses

Separated, six feet apart

Yet all in one boat and part of one Heart

 

I’ve long suspected we need each other

We children of God and Earth, our mother

Now all the more I’m less distracted

From facing the fact that we’re all impacted

 

Less distracted, but more confused

About how to live with so much to lose

How to cherish each shining hour

When something so lethal holds such power

 

Breathing in, my glasses clear

Breathing out, more fog, oh dear

And so it is, this oscillation

Twixt confidence and consternation

 

A rise and fall, a variation

A surge of certain, then hesitation

A creative wave, then, why should I care?

A vexing vibration, twixt hope and despair

 

I live on a spectrum twixt yes and no

An alternation, an ebb and flow

And in my emotions I glide on an arc

From light and hope to fear and dark

 

And now Easter comes with resurrection

But joy must be mixed with sober reflection

Joy must be tempered and pain not shut out

As we raise our jubilant Easter shout

 

The robins rejoice but take nothing for granted

They search for their food with one eye slanted

They scurry along then freeze, stretching high

To scan the yard for reason to fly

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Robins rise with cheerful song

They do their work the whole day long

They have a method that keeps them steady

A confident practice that keeps them ready

 

And so I manage my oscillation

With Methodist determination

To practice the gifts that I do best

To rise with resolve and then to rest

 

I doubt I’m protected from all alarms

But I know I’m sustained in loving Arms.

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Okay, so that poem we’ll call my version of

faith, in the age of pandemic.

It Is Well With My Soul

March 31, 2020

“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.”

 

This morning I could feel the enemy come creepin’, creepin’…

 

Fear. Not a good companion for the long day ahead.

 

A friend had suggested at dawn that I hold myself with care this day. Good advice.

 

So at a pause in my writing and for lack of a better idea, I went outside and gave my newly planted Mexican heather a drink of water.

 

Also the pot of green and white caladiums I planted for my husband, who likes the way the wind makes them ‘wave their hands.’ Jazz hands!

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All the while rediscovering a classical music mix on my iPod.

 

Finished with watering, I sat on the patio and began to enjoy the ‘table’ spread before me: music, cool wind, sunshine, and a mockingbird ruffling as he clung to the powerline. I went still, and joy came creepin’, creeping’…  This is good.  I’ve somehow managed to hold myself with care. And oh I would like to send this good energy out.

 

Then the turn of events. After some minutes of Beethoven and Boccherini came chords of guitar, a piece I don’t remember including in the mix:  the Lecha Dodi.  “Come my friend, my beloved.”  Traditional song to welcome Shabbat, Sabbath, precious day of rest, longed for as a man longs for his bride. As the guitar strummed and man’s voice soared in Hebrew, soon joined by woman’s, I was filled with a sweetness that pushed back the enemy, at least for now.  Here are the lyrics in English:

 

Come my beloved to welcome the bride
The presence of Shabbat we receive
Observe and remember in one divine utterance
We heard from the One and Only God
The Lord is One and His name One
For renown for splendor and for praise
Come my beloved
Shake off the dust arise
Dress in garments of glory my people
Through the son of Jesse the Bethlehemite
Redemption draws near to my soul
Come my beloved
Wake up wake up
For your light has come
Awaken, awaken sing a song
For the glory of the Lord is revealed to you
Come my beloved

 

Awaken, awaken! Come my beloved!

 

I hit replay and listened again.  Of a sudden, listening was not enough.  I told you it was a strange turn of events!  A call to strangeness! So I processed as if drawn to a sunsplashed corner of the yard, the traffic of Major Drive just beyond what we are pleased to call our ‘privacy fence’, and I began to move, in the breath of God, in the Light.  A venerable Methodist church lady engaged in a liturgical work-of-the-people dance with all the Hebrew in her, which is evidently a lot. My ‘garments of glory’ were an old red top and black leggings and gray sneakers. What a sight! For God and all the bluejays to see.  Also a broad-winged hawk who swooped near the dance floor as if mildly interested then veered away to find better fare than this.  Can’t say I blame him.

 

Then I spied some palm branches growing from our neighbor’s yard through the fence into ours.

 

So I cut them and added them to the dance.  Strange, strange, strange.  And I loved it.

 

We’ll call that my best prayer of the day, at least so far.

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Revisiting Treasures

March 30, 2020

 

When I was a little girl, first of four kids,

Mother and Dad took us to the beach.

Our father spent some time collecting

Six shells, nesting them securely.

He gave them to me

To keep.

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A lifetime later

on holiday

I collected shells of my own

Arranged them in a shadowbox

According to shape and color

Sunshine scallop at the center

Light at the heart of us

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I’ve had more freedom from care

Than he did

I hope he knows how grateful I am

For his care

And how sorry

For charging him with

Hypervigilance

 

And now, now care he never dreamed of has shown up

 

I’m pleased to think

Both shell collections

Are safe with me

As are the memories and the desire

To hand things on to the next generation

Miracles are where you find them

March 28, 2020

Psalm 90:12-17

To count our days rightly, instruct,

that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Come back, O LORD! How long?—

and have pity on Your servants.

Sate us in the morning with Your kindness,

let us sing and rejoice all our days.

Give us joy as the days You afflicted us,

the years we saw evil.

Let Your acts be seen by Your servants

and Your glory by their children.

And may the sweetness of the Master our God be upon us

and the work of our hands firmly found for us,

and the work of our hands firmly found!

 

The concluding verses of Psalm 90 have long appealed to me, and now more than ever.

 

The reality of separation from family and friends is hitting hard.  One dawning shock: for my sake and theirs, I can’t be around my grandbabies. Facebook is some consolation…

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Maybe if I check the latest news one more time there might be some ray of improvement.  Or preferably, a miracle.  No such luck.

 

Today I came across a piece by a woman named Alison Glock, who’s trying to manage her own dismay while comforting and guiding two daughters, ages eighteen and nineteen.  She writes, “in those long, vacant hours, free of clutter and busyness and traditional validation, we will have to learn how to sit with ourselves and discover the glory and meaning in that stillness. Or, at the very least, accept that tomorrow was never promised. In some ways it’s no different than it always was, I explain, we just have fewer distractions to hide behind.”

 

Tomorrow was never promised.  Indeed.  And oh the hyper-management projects and distractions we’ve invented to avoid that fact.  To self-soothe, to give some illusion of control.  And oh, the time we’ve ‘killed,’ placing so little value on it.

 

Yes, we will have to learn, and accept what must be accepted.  The Serenity Prayer comes to mind, and the Twelve Steps of recovery.   Whatever self-soothing way of being that’s got you in its grip, time to let it go.  If you dare. If I dare.

 

“To count our days wisely, instruct, that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

 

No distractions to hide behind, not anymore.  Reality must be faced, fear must be managed, the long view nurtured, kindness and gratitude practiced.  It’s time to step up, say what matters most.

 

But such straight thinking is hard. For me, anyway.  Order helps.  A day properly ordered.  In my life I’ve learned the value of routine, and now more than ever.

 

One thing I value is keeping as flexible and fit as my venerable age will permit.  New reality:  No more weights and yoga group at the gym.  However, I have my yoga DVD’s and a computer at home, and I’ve found the continuation of my practice an enormous relief from tension.

 

As for the weights, my wise son suggested gallon jugs filled with water. According to my scale, each gallon of water weights eight pounds. Good enough!

 

Oh, but I miss one device at the gym in particular: the back extension machine.  This machine supports the front of the lower half of you, feet tucked and hips supported as you lower yourself from the waist into free space, then rise again. I’ve found this enormously helpful for back strength, posture, and in general moving about my world with a lighter step.  I do feel this is a small but holy thing I can do for my circle of care!

 

Rather than give that up I got online and found a reasonably priced version, and within days it arrived in a big cardboard carton, which I sprayed down with Lysol and left on the front porch as long as I could stand it.

 

When my husband and I opened the carton, we looked in vain for assembly instructions.  There weren’t any.  The only guide was what what my husband informed me is an “exploded diagram.” Which looks like an explosion of a million or so small parts, hovering near each other, with arrows and numbers.

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Said my husband, “I’m not at all sure about this.”

 

Yet as we pulled out each part and laid it on the sun porch rug, I saw him go into his zone.  Even after forty years I don’t know exactly how this zone works.  But it does. Reason and the right tools and aiming to please his wife worked their usual magic and soon I had CB-13 Back Extension, made by Valor Fitness.

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Whose motto, by the way, is “Fitness Equipment for the Brave at Heart.”

 

Miracles are where you find them.

 

By the way, the treasures behind the machine are (1) a gift-plant from my beloved Brenda and (2)  a cat facsimile from my beloved Janice, of blessed memory, when I was grieving my real cat Sandy, back in the spring of 2006.

 

And so, we’ll cultivate brave hearts and strong backs, insofar as possible.

Out from behind the distractions so rudely pulled away by the coronavirus,

we’ll establish the best routines we can,

praying that God will teach us to number our days for God’s glory,

And may the sweetness of the Master our God be upon us

and the work of our hands firmly found for us,

and the work of our hands firmly found!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Birthday!

Sixty six, oh my!  The parents who welcomed me are gone to glory, the hospital long a grassy vacant lot.  But here I am, sound of mind and centered enough to hold a frightened world in my heart and thank those faithfully doing their jobs.

Trust God and do the next right thing.

Practice gratitude:

Cream for my coffee.

Husband cooking bacon on the patio.

Virtual church.

And oh, what a party this morning!

Decoration:

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Guests:

Carolling cardinal.

Trilling woodpecker.

Cacophony of jays.

White wing doves with their mournful questions about continuing the species.

Brown thrashers thrashing, silently squaring off. Whether this be courtship or a matter of invaded territory, only the Shadow knows.

Love and shalom to all.

 

 

 

 

Eastern is Ailing

Few sadder tales are told

Than the course of this dastardly cold

Muzzy and drooping, raspy and crouping

Fast in a virus’s hold

 

Sickly I sit in my chair

Eyeing the gloom out there

Chill winter day, not even a jay

To lighten the lachrymose air

 

A novel limply in hand

A famous brotherly band

With Russian names vexing and motives perplexing

I wish I cared more but I can’t

 

O dreadful deadening curse

Could ever this cold get worse?

It could and it will, but life grips me still

And lo, I behold a new verse!

 

A poem of a yard this place

Where feathers have brushed my face

And now in this hour of plague so dour

a phoebe flashes its grace!

 

Sweet bird of Nature’s art

Dark phoebe stirs my heart

His long tail dips, away he zips

Then back to his perch like a dart

 

Strong and sure he seems

This creature of bubbling streams

A positive yearning for phoebe returning

To dance her sprightly dreams

 

But meanwhile my aching frame

Again forgets its name

So back to bed my concrete head

Till it’s time to get back in the game

Coming to My Senses

In this morning’s post, Richard Rohr recommended an all-senses meditation.  He noted our need to come back to our original bodily knowing. That we cannot do all our thinking with our minds.  That during times of stress, “remembering how to come back to our bodies can be tremendously beneficial.” I trust Father Richard. So I tried it.

 

What did I see?  Dark outside. Beloved desk, in the lamplight. What did I taste? Coffee with cream. What did I smell? Impossible to define enchantment of familiar house. What were my touch-sensations?  Elbow on formica, chin in hand, bare feet on the floor. Stomach growling. Air on my skin.

 

What did I hear? Ah, glad you asked.

 

Loudest was the eternal rush of passing carbon emissions on Major. Lower notes were refrigerator and HVAC humming, faraway rumble of a train.  That was pretty much it.

 

But now the backyard is waking. As it always does, with variations of season and weather. Ah there I go, thinking and remembering and assigning meaning!

 

Back to immediate perceptions:  Sleepy twitterings.  Emphatic proclamation: “see-bee-see-bay.” Now the first solemn “cheer, cheer” of this day. (It gets more cheerful as he continues.) Shadow-tail thundering across the roof.

 

Interesting that the emotions called up by this exercise are more than I expected and curiously paired:

 

Gratitude, and grief. Exhilaration, and cut to the heart. Presence, and absence. Dawning light, and gathering shadow. Thank you, Father Richard.

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To What Shall I Lichen Thee?

Storm over, I emerged from our house to check the mail.  On a sea of sparkling green neath our Chinese elm I found a beautiful lichen attached to a boatlike curl of bark.  I’ve learned to pay attention when things appear at my feet, as if gifted.  So I brought this organism into the house and gave it a place of honor on a paper towel next to my desk.  It dried out, became less green and more gray. Something about it continues to captivate me.

 

Did you know a lichen is a dual organism?  For mutual benefit, an algae moves in to the filaments of a fungi, producing a tight pair-bond known as lichen!  Lichens grow very slowly indeed and live a really, really long time.  Lichens grow on bark, leaves, mosses … or other lichens. They grow on rocks, walls, gravestones, roofs, dirt … Some estimate that they cover 6% of Earth’s land surface.

 

Which brings us to the Thicket.

“And further, deep into the thicket.” [Saint John of the Cross]:

 

Only last week it was reported to me and interested others that 137 species of lichen have been counted in our own neck of the woods, that is to say, the Big Thicket National Preserve. Two of these are new to the state of Texas. Well, new to our awareness, anyway.

 

Here is my own beauty, resting on a Taxa Tally:

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