Natural World Category


Unfathomable

Unfathomable

The word du jour is unfathomable.

As defined by Oxford Languages, unfathomable means “incapable of being fully explored or understood; (of water or a natural feature) impossible to measure the extent of.”

“Impossible to measure the extent of” …

The number of dead due to COVID-19 is unfathomable, as is the number of those infected with the virus.  Those numbers do not include the innumerable grieving family members nor the completely exhausted front-line workers–utterly unfathomable.  Mr. Trump’s stupidity, sheer volume of lies, and depths of degrading debauchery is unfathomable, as is the fact that there are still individuals willing to vote for him.

Is the election only two weeks away? This also seems unfathomable considering it was just eight months ago that this pandemic began and four years ago that he was first elected.

I was still teaching at the time and I distinctly remember sitting in a curriculum meeting with my fellow Social Studies teachers commiserating over the election results—the majority of us having voted for Mrs. Clinton. In her shock, a colleague noticed how calm I was and asked how I could be so “Zen.” Naively, I said, “we made it through eight years of Bush.” In retrospect, my lack of awareness and understanding of the consequences of what had just occurred is unfathomable.

I could not then fully imagine the extent of the complete desecration and destruction the US and the world would endure in every respect —globally to individually, microscopically to cosmically, in all conceivable ways–under Mr. Trump’s presidency. Our circumstances appear unrecoverable.

Yet …

I went outside very early this morning hoping to catch a glimpse of the Orionid meteor shower. As I watched the sky turn from deep shades of royal blue to aqua to turquoise, I noticed the darkened silhouette of a bird on the ridge of my neighbor’s roof. He was majestically facing east, honoring the sunrise. Then in one swift moment, he elegantly and decisively dove off the roof like a breathtaking cliff diver and flew out of sight.

I was undone by the unfathomable beauty of creation and wept from complete joy.

In his Good News narrative, Luke writes about the encounter between Mary and the angel Gabriel, where He explains to her that she will be supernaturally impregnated with a son and that her relative, Elizabeth, is also pregnant. Elizabeth is described as an “old woman” who appears to be reproductively challenged and well beyond normative child bearing years. After telling Mary this, Gabriel’s last statement is, “For with God, nothing is impossible.” Luke 1:37

Nothing is impossible because I Am is … unfathomable.

The following poem seems to sum up what I am trying to express today.

Before being born into the world of time,
The silence of pre-existence was all absorbing.
The transition from eternity to time
Is full of sufferings, fears, and little deaths.
But, in the transition from death
To eternal life,
The silence of pre-existence
Bursts into boundless joy.
All that can be manifested emerges
From the endless creativity of
That Which Is.
But
The Secret Embrace
Of
The Source of all creation
With
Infinite Transcendence
Can
Never be revealed.

—Thomas Keating, “The Secret Embrace”

Squirrelly

Squirrelly

The desk where I sit to read my Bible in the mornings is situated near a window that overlooks my backyard. Easily seen from this window is the birdfeeder built by my grandfather hanging from a black metal pole and the bird bath that once belonged to my grandmother.

I was reading from the Torah book of Leviticus when I became distracted by the antics of a squirrel at the hopper. As much as I tried to concentrate on God’s laws and festivals that Moses was describing, I just could not stay focused due to the hilarious activities outside my window.

Squirrels are amazing creatures. Because they can rotate their ankles 180 degrees, they can point their hind paws backwards which enables them to climb down trees head first. This ability also comes in handy for hanging off feeder ridges upside down while eating with their front paws, which is what my little friend was doing.

While the feeder gently swung back and forth ever so slightly, my furry suspended friend nibbled away. Something must have startled him because he did this monumental swirling acrobatic flip from the feeder into the nearby Crepe Myrtle bush. As I watched him fly and then tumble through the limbs of the bush, I was scared he would become impaled on one of the branches. Thankfully he landed safely and after a brief second to make sure the coast was clear, he excitedly scurried across the ground, easily scaling the thin iron pole to the nirvana-inducing smorgasbord.

I went back to reading about the year of Jubilee, the day of Atonement, and other sacred offerings when I was struck by God’s holiness. As I tried to reconcile the awe-rendering holiness of God in the Torah to the warmth and all-encompassing love of Jesus, the grayish-brown circus rodent continued his stunts.

He was once again draped topsy-turvy on the feeder when a huge Blue Jay swooped down like the Red Barron attacking Snoopy landing on the platform edge. This action immediately caused Squirrelly to frantically bail and retreat. I laughed out loud.

The juxtaposition of my trying to read what seems like a serious book in the Bible to the bushy-tailed escapades occurring outside my window appeared to mirror my inner musings of trying to resolve seemingly contrasting ideas about God.

Squirrelly was just too entertaining, so I closed my Bible and enjoyed the divine circus unfolding before my eyes. Several Cardinals came and went as well as my first ever sighting of a Carolina Chickadee. I was pleasantly surprised to see a remaining Robin mixing with the troop of Sparrows that socialize in the close-at-hand Spirea Bush. The Blue Jay had departed and Squirrelly, now earth bound, was feasting on the fallen seeds.

Have you ever noticed that squirrels look like they are praying when they eat? By using both their front paws to hold food to their mouth, they maintain a sacred posture of gratitude and peace.

I never did come to any mind bending conclusions about God and Her holiness.  What is there to reconcile when a praying squirrel inspires as much awe as any sacred writing? Sometimes you just have to stop and watch the squirrels.

Be

Be

“We are human beings not human doings.” Dalai Lama

Had it not been for the pandemic, I might not have taken the opportunity to genuinely watch and listen to the seasons change. Living on the east coast of the United States, I have been observant of and awed by the distinct seasonal shifts over time. However, the noticing is more subtle and acute.

For much of the last 40+ years, I have been preoccupied with consumerism—doing and consuming, rather than mindful contemplation. Careers, materialism, raising a family, clubs, volunteering, church, school, sports—none of which are wrong in and of themselves, but can be when we allow any or all to become all-consuming.

Since moving in with my father towards the end of winter, I have been keenly aware of the sights and sounds of cyclical variations. The relative silence of winter beautifully contrasts the birdsongs of Spring. Have you noticed how loud tweeting birds are as they sing to attract their mates? Then as Spring gave way to Summer, the chirping of grasshoppers, crickets and cicadas picked up the melody. What will the sounds of fall be, I wonder?

My mother loved flowers and I would not be surprised if the following was by design on her part–since spring there is always some plant blooming. First to erupt were Hyacinths and Irises; yellow, lavender, and purple blossoms bursting forth. Some of the purple Irises were so dark, they looked iridescently black—absolutely gorgeous.

After the Irises faded pink Cora Bells, White Lilacs, Peonies and various lilies cascaded through her flower beds. As they began to pass, Snapdragons and Resurrection Lilies flowered and have now given way here in late summer to the flowering Butterfly and Crepe Myrtle bushes.

The family of Robins that nested under the porch have flown the coop as well as two broods of cute Carolina Wrens. Delighted by their antics, I miss their winged presence. But I now find myself keeping company with graceful Monarch Butterflies and hovering Dragonflies that frequent the yard.

Gone for four years, my mother left a true living legacy for me and others to enjoy.

“The quote, “Stop and smell the roses,” is often attributed to golfer Walter Hagen in the 1956 book “The Walter Hagen Story” but he didn’t mention roses. The quote: “You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry. Don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.

In these days and times, there is much that one could worry about. Perhaps the idea of stopping to smell the roses is not just about “being” but about receiving a gift, whatever the gift may be.

Furthermore, we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called in accordance with his purpose … Romans 8:28

“You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry. Don’t worry.  And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.”

Open your heart.  Receive.  Be.

Photography Hobby

Photography Hobby

When I am feeling down in the dumps, one of the things that brings me great peace and calm is photography. I picked up this hobby after my mother died four years ago. Hospice of the Panhandle offered a course called Grief Through the Lens of Love. This class was just what I needed to process my grief and move forward in that ongoing journey.

I am not very good photographer, just lucky. I have read a few books on the subject, but for me it is not about the end result, it is about the process. I enjoy the quiet solitude of looking, observing, and waiting–the meditative watchfulness.

This morning I was sitting on my back porch looking at the birds, when a beautiful American Goldfinch landed on one of my 15 sunflowers. I was so excited, I moved too quickly and scared him away, much to my dismay. Not a minute later a dainty hummingbird paid a visit to the same sunflower. I missed that shot too.

I did, however, get some delightful close ups of several bees pollinating my sunflowers. I was completely fascinated and enthralled with one bee in particular as he slowly and meticulously crawled around the disc florets. My patience paid off when I actually got a picture of one bee in flight—it was so cool!

Later my attention was drawn to the sparrows and Brown-headed Cowbirds gathered in the birdbath. I took a bunch of snap shots of them bathing—it was hilarious. Those images do not look like much, but I thoroughly enjoyed viewing them bathe and found myself giggling out loud at their antics.

These are difficult times in which we are living and maybe it is okay, if not absolutely necessary, for us to slow down and take pleasure in God’s creation in order to restore our heart and soul.

Mary Oliver is one of my favorite poets. Her book Devotions sits on my desk with many pages dog-eared and verses underlined which have deeply touched my inner being. I conclude this post with her poem entitled “Invitation.”

Oh do you have time
      to linger
          for just a little while
               out of your busy

and very important day
      for the goldfinches
          that have gathered
                in the field of thistles

for a musical battle,
      to see who can sing
           the highest note,
                or the lowest,

or the most expressive of mirth,
      or the most tender?
           Their strong, blunt beaks
                drink the air

as they strive
      melodiously
           not for your sake
                and not for mine

and nor for the sake of winning
      but for sheer delight and gratitude—
           believe us, they say,
                it is a serious thing

. . .

just to be alive
      on this fresh morning
           in this broken world.
                I beg of you,

do not walk by
      without pausing
           to attend to this
                rather ridiculous performance.

It could mean something.
      It could mean everything.
           It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
You must change your life.

Water

Water

One of the highlights of my week, pre-pandemic, was choir practice every Wednesday night. Not only did I enjoy singing with these beloveds, but also sharing our lives with one another through prayer, laughter, and familiar communing.

Thanks to the technical expertise of our choir director, Jeff, we have continued to meet on-line via Zoom and other social media platforms every week since stay-at-home guidelines were enacted. While we do not sing, we have continued to pray, laugh and fellowship. Seeing the faces and hearing the voices of my dear friends buoys my heart.

Recently, Jeff gave us the following “assignment” for our next virtual gathering:

“I want you to share a story, experience, or anything about how nature past or present that moved you or drew you closer to God. For example: Was there a time in your life when nature or something in nature spoke to you, moved you or ministered to you in some new way? Have you read something about nature recently that spoke to you? Is there a Bible verse or song about nature that speaks to you?”

Here is my response . . .

. . . water . . . more specifically bodies of water such as rivers, lakes, ponds, pools, and oceans.

From the time I was an infant and into adulthood swimming, playing, wading in these liquid lounges has immersed me in God’s presence.

Swimming for me feels like gliding through flowing sunshine where I feel the deepest sense of peace, calm and at-one-ment.

. . . my mother’s brother-in-law and sister—my favorite Aunt Bun–had a small trailer along the Shenandoah River near Charles Town, West Virginia, where family and friends gathered to enjoy the water and each other’s company.

. . . swimming lessons at the YMCA. During one lesson, the lifeguard/instructor jumped in to save me because I came very close to going under.

. . . my paternal grandfather poling a flat-bottomed fishing boat filled with his brood into the middle of the Potomac River near Williamsport, Maryland where we enjoyed cavorting in the cool flowing ripples. On one such occasion, as the story goes, my grandfather dropped me into the river and said, “Swim, you’re a Fridinger.”

. . . paternal family reunions at my Aunt’s house. Being a farmer, my Uncle had huge tractor inner tubes he placed in his relatively large pond. Standing and balancing on the slippery serpents proved to have hilarious results as one after another of my kin (and myself) awkwardly flopped into the water.

It was here that I learned how to squeeze my fists in such a way that water would spurt through like a jet stream.  This eventually led to contests to see who could squirt water the farthest. Granddad usually won.

. . . many, many trips to Ocean City, Maryland and near by Rehoboth, Delaware with my church youth group, parents, and in due course my own sons—well into their adulthood—a beach-going tradition they now carry on with their own families.

I could not and still cannot leave the sandy shores without standing at the ocean’s edge in the early morning stillness, reveling in awe at the vastness of the sea lapping at my feet.

. . . my father teaching his three grandsons how to swim in the Potomac River above Damn Number 5 outside of Shepherdstown, West Virginia where he had bought a retirement home with river front property. A carpenter at heart, my father built a small dock which he ingeniously roped to the bank along with a short ramp from the shore to the jetty. Endless summer days were spent lazily frolicking, jumping, splashing, wading and floating.

I can still hear my sons saying, “Throw me off your shoulders, Granddad.” Taking turns, they would climb on his shoulders—my father would bounce up and down—going under water himself to get the necessary momentum—and releasing them in flight to their cannonball and belly-flop reentries.

Literally drenched and waterlogged, my memories are a fountain of God’s eternal presence wooing me into a deeper and ever-growing awareness of Her Truth, Beauty and Love.

In writing this, I was reminded of the story of Mary and Martha from Luke 10: 38-42.

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

“There is need of only one thing,” or, the doing will take care of itself; just be . . .

Present . . . aware . . .

Awake.

Birds

Birds

Since Easter, it has become my habit to spend my early morning with the birds. While I am NOT a morning person, this new routine has become the best part of my day.

Most of the time, I am still in my pj’s-–coat, hat and boots, if it is chilly–when I join my feathered friends on the deck with my mug of hot tea. Their twittering calls make me feel as though they do not care what I look like; they are just glad I joined them.

In grateful solitude I watch and listen as the scene before me unfolds. Sometimes a squirrel or two will playfully scamper around the trees, a rooster will crow, or my neighbor’s chickens will scratch around their enclosure looking for a treat. I watch with fascination the way the birdies fly and land—remarkable! Enthralled, I close my eyes and listen to the enrapturing melodic harmonies.

Spending time in the presence of these acrobatic aviators brings peace to my soul and joy to my heart.

Yesterday morning, since it was raining, I sat under the deck in an area where I have a swing. As I made my way to my cozy corner, a Robin–who has built her nest in the rafters of the porch–flew away. She sat in the yard squawking for a bit. Once seated, I stayed as still as possible. Wary of her safety, she carefully made her way back to her home.

Socially distancing ourselves, we sat staring at each other having reached a cautious truce. She, imagining stranger danger hazards and I, visualizing a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”

After a long silence, I dipped my head ever so slightly to take a sip of tea, and she once again flitted away. Not wanting to inconvenience her any further, I calmly left.

Jesus said: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Matthew 6:26-27

Let’s face it, there is much that one could worry about these days; but hasn’t that been true of every historical era? Even without a pandemic, cares and concerns can consume us; the only thing that changes is the object of our fears.

Jesus is telling us to turn our center of attention from that which is temporary to that which is eternal—God’s never ending, ever faithful, all-encompassing Love for you, for me, for everyone and everything!

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

The phrase above, “turn our center of attention,” made me think serendipitously of the song by The Byrds, “Turn, Turn, Turn”–a beautiful video link is provided below.

I will close with a poem entitled “My Psalm” by Mary Binstead which I found in one of my mother’s journal.

The Lord is my Friend;
He leads me into sweet gardens of contentment;
He bathes my feet in dew,
Fills my ears with the songs of birds—
My nostrils with the fragrance of flowers.

The Lord protects me;
He shades my head with the greenery of trees.
Gives the bright sun to warm me;
And He causes the rain to fall
That I might drink my full water.

The Lord has mercy.
He comforts me when my days
Are filled with sorrow.
He dries my tears with tenderness,
Until my sadness is gone.
My soul is filled with peace.

So with thanks unto my Lord,
Who guides my steps from birth to death,
I lift my eyes to Heaven;
And my heart is filled with love and joy,
Knowing that never will I stand alone.

Take care and be well . . .

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pKP4cfU28vM