On my piano rests a book given to me by my son years ago. Every year around the middle of November, I take the book from its place on a bookshelf and place it again on the piano so that we can enjoy hearing and singing this music again. It is a collection of Christmas music from around the world, many very old traditional carols. I do not form a new collection; I remember this very good one and bring it close to me so that I can use it, savoring the words and melodies.
This is a good picture of the word recollect for me. My grandparents used that word, pronouncing it “reck-o-lect,” as remembering. But the wider meaning is one of gathering back, of bring back to awareness, to assemble again something that is scattered.
It is this sense of gathering back that I am given as Advent unfolds. As I choose to open my music book once more, I am practicing one part of this remembrance.
Magnolia seeds are covered with a red waxy coat. Birds love them, but propagation of the tree from seed is difficult because of the process of extracting the seeds and preserving them. A row of Magnolia trees grew along the edge of the schoolyard that adjoined the yard of the house where I grew up. As a little girl I admired the beauty and fragrance of their blooms and played with the glossy leaves and brown suede cones, delighting in those red-coated seeds. There were always so many, and more would come the following year. I never thought to ask why there were no trees that sprouted from all those seeds.
In a similar fashion, we are surrounded by words as Advent begins and the calendar counts down to Christmas. Beyond the noise urging us to commercialize and socialize and make our list of things to do, there are words that can help us to be quiet and still, to reflect, to simply be. It is these words I would like to extract and preserve as Advent begins.
The pot of caladiums on my front porch continues to multiply and thrive in our cool mornings and sunny afternoons. Every time I come in that door I pause to to appreciate the soft colors and hint of scarlet at the center and edge of the leaves. They are pretty. But this morning when I opened the front door to go outside, I looked from a different place and what I saw took my breath away. Veined and shaded, the leaf’s translucency drew me closer. Morning light streamed through emerald tissue and glowed like stained glass. In this moment,, in just this angle of sunlight, there was beauty I would have missed if had hurried by. I believe we have countless opportunities like this to see with the eyes of our heart. I am grateful for this one.
I might have been sitting on an agreeable rock or lying under a Chinese Tallow tree, one of our few Texas Gulf Coast trees that can be counted on to scatter scarlet and gold leaves in the Fall.
I might have traveled a few hundred miles north to woods that were a childhood delight for me when the leaves turned.
But I only traveled to the Medical Center. I only lay on a hard, narrow table under a computerized tomography scanner that rotated around my body, assessing my lungs – a painless procedure that is a tool for detecting and identifying problems in my body. I have done this many times before because I have nodules in my lungs that need to be monitored plus some respiratory difficulties. But when I looked up from my narrow perch, this time I saw this illuminated image. And it took my breath away – in a good way. It made me smile, and I thanked the technician for this gift.
I thank God for the natural beauty which someone photographed. It takes little imagination to shut out all the antiseptic environment in that room and be transported to “light pouring down into the woods and breaking into the shapes and tones of things.”
The best time is late afternoon
when the sun strobes through
the columns of trees as you are hiking up,
and when you find an agreeable rock
to sit on, you will be able to see
the light pouring down into the woods
and breaking into the shapes and tones
of things and you will hear nothing
but a sprig of birdsong or the leafy
falling of a cone or nut through the trees,
and if this is your day you might even
spot a hare or feel the wing-beats of geese
driving overhead toward some destination.
But it is hard to speak of these things
how the voices of light enter the body
and begin to recite their stories
how the earth holds us painfully against
its breast made of humus and brambles
how we who will soon be gone regard
the entities that continue to return
greener than ever, spring water flowing
through a meadow and the shadows of clouds
passing over the hills and the ground
where we stand in the tremble of thought
taking the vast outside into ourselves.
I have never been fond of palm trees in my garden landscape. To me, as close as we live to the coast, they seem much more at home near the ocean, fitting right in with the sand and sun and waves. However, I adore ferns, and grow several different varieties in our wooded back yard. But as you see here, there is definitely a friendly relationship between these ferns and the large palm where they so happily grow. I noticed this cluster of ferns when I took my 6 month old granddaughter out in her stroller for a walk one morning. This palm is the centerpiece of a small pocket park in their neighborhood. I don’t think I had ever truly paid attention (sorry, Mary Oliver!) and been astonished at the sight, and certainly had never talked about how these graceful little ferns happen to find enough to grow on in what seems to be just a notch left by palm fronds as they age and break off.
In this case, the palm’s growth habit (aging?) creates a little pocket where debris and leaves collect. The point where the palm fronds once attached to the trunk – called boots – collect leaf litter that composts to create a growing medium that ferns love. This is a natural occurrence in areas like ours where wet, humid conditions favor the ferns.
The ferns are epiphytes. This means they are growing on another plant that serves as a host, but they don’t get their nutrition directly from the host plant or cause any it any harm. Spanish moss is another common epiphyte.
Another little fern called the Resurrection Fern can be found growing on a palm trunk, although the most common choice for this fern around here are the large old live oaks where the fern grows along the branches looking like brown moss until it begins to rain. Then it transforms into emerald lace! (See my previous post http://tinyurl.com/TheOldOakTree)
I am glad I paid attention to these feathery green surprises. One day tiny spores were floating around and a puff of wind carried them to just the right spot to root and grow. I am reminded of the lovely phrase used by Hildegarde of Bingen: A Feather on the Breath of God. Maybe we can learn to let go enough to be shown just the right place to grow. And it just might be an unlikely place, an extraordinary place, one we would never have known to dream of.
One of the disciplines that is hard to achieve in our bustling, hurrying, sound filled lives is that of silence. But if we do not know how to practice silence, if we do not make space for it, we may miss the time we are offered the chance to give that gift to one who needs us to listen. I love the silence of early morning – sitting with my cup of coffee as darkness opens to soft light. It is as if I am stilled in the lap of God, resting in the dawn of a new day’s hope.
Talking always comes much easier than listening, but it is in silence that I can tune my ears and learn what it means to really hear. In my recent reading, I found the words from Rachel Naomi Remen as well as the poetry by John Fox. Both speak to the value of learning silence and deeply listening.
“Perhaps the most important thing we bring to another person is the silence in us, not the sort of silence that is filled with unspoken criticism or hard withdrawal. The sort of silence that is a place of refuge, of rest, of acceptance of someone as they are. We are all hungry for this other silence. It is hard to find. In its presence we can remember something beyond the moment, a strength on which to build a life. Silence is a place of great power and healing.”
~ Rachel Naomi Remen,
When someone deeply listens to you it is like holding out a dented cup you’ve had since childhood and watching it fill up with cold, fresh water.WWhen someone deeply listens to you ithen it balances on top of the brim, you are understood. When it overflows and touches your skin, you are loved.
When someone deeply listens to you the room where you stay starts a new life and the place where you wrote your first poem begins to glow in your mind’s eye. It is as if gold has been discovered.
When someone deeply listens to you your barefeet are on the earth and a beloved land that seemed distant is now at home within you.