“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” ~ Mary Oliver, “Yes! No!”
Joe and I attended the same highschool in Jacksonville, Texas . Over fifty years later, we talk about how grateful we continue to be for good teachers who taught us well, expected much, and by their example and instruction gave us more than knowing how to construct sentences, write paragraphs, solve equations, and appreciate art, history, geography, music and sports. Lois Boles, Frances Childress, James Everett, Mr. Mosely, Signora Mullinix, Jerry Robinson, Bill Ingram spring to mind quickly. But a spry lady we called Miss Kate (Kate Stadler) who taught typing, used an expression so often in her classes that we still use it. “Pay Attention!” Miss Kate demanded attention to detail with expected results in skill and accuracy. I am pretty sure she didn’t intend application beyond keyboard skills or think that as years went on, paying attention would be a skill that would become something to live by. I am certain that I did not understand the phrase as more than a requirement until much later. In its simplicity, there lies a risk of underrating its scope and impact. But it has become a compelling imperative, one that helps me see the intersection of faith and creation and art. No surprise, my favorite Mary Oliver quotation expresses this well.
A book which is now considered a classic children’s book of the twentieth century, Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett was published as a novel in 1911. Its story, full of loss and gain, tragedy and triumph develops as children and a garden grow and change. There have been a number of productions produced for movies and television which bear the name and tell the story. But the movie version created in 1949 is the one which lives in my memory. I was 9 years old, and not allowed to see many films. The scene which so impressed me was one of sudden change. Almost the entire film is in stark black and white. The scene in which the door to the garden is opened to reveal the beauty of the garden in vivid Technicolor created a breathtaking moment. Little girls weren’t the only ones to gasp.
It is only these many years later that I am understanding that I was far more than entertained by this. In this story, it is only as Mary begins to think of others rather than herself that she became more than a spectator of the garden. As her perception as well as her vision changed, the garden became more beautiful.
This photo is a sign in our garden that has become intertwined in a yellow climbing rose. It reminds me of that other Mary, and of the miracles created when I see beyond myself.
Lichens are intriguing. Often the first form of life to colonise a new area of rock, they are commonly seen and also commonly overlooked. They frequent older buildings, stone walls, and most perennial plants, particularly trees. Lichens are important because they often occupy niches that, at least sometime during the season, are so dry, or hot, or sterile, that nothing else will grow there.
In the hot and dry times in my life that seem unproductive, it may be that Grace is growing a bit of lichen – some small ruffled newness that needs no notice but still proclaims life and growth.