There are countless things that bring my observance of Lent and the daily changes in our garden into side by side meaning for me – changing my heart in the simple practice of being open to wonder. We planted this small Red Baron peach tree less than a year ago. Flooding in our back yard from a hurricane and unusually long hours of severe freezing temperatures during wintertime appeared to defeat the young fruit tree. It stood, a forlorn stick we thought had not pulled through the trials it faced with roots so newly sunk into our soil. Then came a day when leaf buds tentatively swelled and one small blossom appeared as if dropped onto a twig of a branch, followed by 3 more. I see that small wonder every time I look out the windows near my desk. This morning I read excerpts from a book by Georges Bernanos, The Diary of a Country Priest.. Good words that settled and helped me. The tiny peach tree tells the story too.
“Lent reminds us…conversion is a lifelong process…We never stop starting over.
I fall down. I get up.
Keep marching to the end. Don’t shed your equipment. Keep starting over..”
And when the country priest (who had started over many times in his life) lay dying, he said, “Does it matter? Grace is everywhere.’
Hurricane Harvey made landfall late on August 26, 2017, spinning and spewing and stopping over Houston and surrounding areas, including our home in Fort Bend County. Four days later, we have clear skies and sunshine for the first time. Our home is dry inside although thousands of homes are not and many thousands of people are displaced, rescued, evacuated. Businesses and hospitals are closed. Many roads are impassable. And here in our community, the Brazos river is flooding to crest 2 feet beyond its record. In the days to come, there will be more massive flooding. There is peace in this storm. There is this picture of tender love and protection. There is togetherness.
I A few weeks ago Joe and I had a business appointment in Houston and stopped by to get lunch in a busy restaurant that is famous for the delicious enchiladas prepared in its kitchens. We enjoyed our lunch, but the food is not what stopped me on my way out. In the middle of an adjacent dining room sat this magnificent carved prayer rail. It might have seemed oddly out of place if not for its careful placement on wonderful Mexican tiles and my sudden realization that it delivered a powerful message: You can pray anywhere.
I quickly took my photo and wondered if anyone ever takes the invitation to kneel. All the way home I wondered about the prayer rail and thought of the stories it could tell. How many bent knees and clasped hands have rested on its dark wood? The same God who heard those prayers heard mine offered in gratitude.
When I first saw this photo, I almost missed the tiny, solitary figure of my 11 year old granddaughter standing still to gaze at the beauty of this mountain lake in Nevada. She and her sister hiked here with their Daddy, my son. They fished for trout in the clear cold water. I am thrilled to see that Maddie also stood still and experienced the wonder of tall reaching evergreens, and glistening lake with its ripples and reflections. I like to think about the beauty she experienced here, the sounds and fragrance of the woods. I have seen her Dad stand still and wonder, too. I believe moments like this do come suddenly, as glimpses, when we turn a corner. I am thankful I can experience this with her, prompted by a photo, felt deeply in my heart.
We are all strangers in a strange land, longing for home, but not quite knowing what or where home is. We glimpse it sometimes in our dreams, or as we turn a corner, and suddenly there is a strange, sweet familiarity that vanishes almost as soon as it comes… –Madeleine L’Engle, from The Rock That Is Higher
On Christmas day, Nora and I rode in the back seat of our car to church, watching for trees. She said the leaves were all gone away and I agreed. I said they would come back in the Spring and be here for her birthday. This is an often repeated story recently as she widens her 2-year-old world to pay attention to things that go away. I thought of this the last few days in our early morning fog. Most mornings, I can see beyond our fence and across the lake to a house that is being built there. I see duck families and herons on the water. But the fog here obscures all but the most pronounced and closest objects. So it is with these days approaching year’s end. I know what recent days have looked like, but the new year coming holds no clear vision for me. I am called to trust, to practice discernment, to watch for markers that remind me I have been and will be guided.
“Spiritual discernment asks us to pay attention…on many levels: to sensus fidelium ( the collective ene of the faithful), to read widely and deeply the best ancient and contemporary thinking, to pray, to attend to the prick of conscience, to watch, to wait, to listen.”
~from “Passing Angels: The Arts of Spiritual Discernment” by Wendy M. Wright in Weavings, November 1995
My first Advent post this year pictured the paperwhite bulbs Nora planted on the day her baby brother was born, November 26, 2016. My, how fast they have grown!
Today, almost 4 weeks later, Nora holds her growing leaves close and says she loves them. Their blooms should be ready to grace our Christmas dinner table!
She loves her baby brother even more! Oliver has many adoring arms to reach for him. He has grown too, a much more amazing miracle than the paperwhites. It has been fun to watch growth and blooming. Tending the blooms and the baby has given particular grace and meaning to these days of Advent, to my reflections of another baby and the way He changed the world.