We walked the bike path for a mile south of the college one morning this week and turned and were making our way back to our starting point when Judy spotted this turtle beside the path. Chances are good that it was there as we passed that way five minutes earlier, unless it is a lot speedier than most turtles. But we sure didn't see it. Makes you wonder how many other things we pass, never realizing what we have missed.
This caterpillar stood out on the brussels sprouts I was watering, and I wasn't sure I wanted it there, but a little research revealed that it is a swallowtail caterpillar. It seemed much happier when I moved it to a nearby dill plant.
I have no idea what these next two are, but I continue to be amazed at what is hidden in plain sight in the bushes and plants around the house, and that I only notice when I slow down and look for something to photograph.
I've been thinking about weeds and unwanted growth this week. I've been working in my garden and flowerbeds, pulling the weeds, making room for the veggies and the flowers I want to be there.
And I've been thinking about the weed of cancer, and the effect it is having on our copastor Heidi, and on the parents of several friends. Last week Heidi and Mitch made the decision for her to end chemotherapy and to enter hospice care.
There is beauty in thistles, in the right place. There is no beauty in cancer. I don't know if there is ever a "right place" for cancer. I do know that it doesn't belong in Heidi's body.
There is beauty in the supportive responses, in the ways our congregation has gathered around Heidi and her family, in the courage and hope with which they have approached this cancer journey. But beauty in cancer? No.
Thinking about cancer, and about thistles, I went back on campus to look for the thistle I had photographed a couple weeks ago (see yesterday's entry).
I couldn't find it. I looked where I thought I had seen it, and I went back and forth along the edge of the prairie plantings and there was not a thistle anywhere in sight.
Or rather, not any that I recognized. I finally took a second look at this shriveled specimen and realized it was the thistle I had photographed earlier. And I remembered seeing a groundskeeper prowling the plantings with a spray nozzle in hand and a tank of something on his back. A tank of something lethal, apparently, because it certainly did in this thistle.
Apparently thistles don't belong in the prairie plantings, anymore than they belong in my garden. In this setting it was a weed, and the groundskeeper dealt with it.
The doctors tried numerous ways of dealing with Heidi's cancer, but they didn't succeed. Did I mention the beauty of doctors, nurses, and other caregivers who deal with cancer day after day, rejoicing when the treatment goes well, mourning when it does not?
This blog began on a day when I saw raindrops on red rose leaves catching the light. (That photo is the banner for this blog.) I took the picture just a few days after we learned that Heidi had stage IV cancer, and for me the image somehow captured the tears and the hope we had.
Winter has come and gone, and last week there were again raindrops on my rose leaves. This Sunday we celebrate Pentecost, and also Heidi's years of pastoring at Assembly Mennonite Church. We don't know whether she will be able to be present -- she was last Sunday -- but the service will be recorded. And we will remember and laugh and weep together.
A few weeks ago, as part of the opening meditation at our weekly church fellowship group, we were invited to reflect on encounters with nature from the day. One young woman shared about the delight she had digging in the soil, planting a garden. "I'm not so sure about the thistles, though." She had pulled out a fair number and was finding it hard to be grateful for thorns.
The day before my eye had been caught by the raindrops on a newly emerging thistle in the prairie plantings on campus, and by the intriguing patterns of the thorns and the emerging thistle heads. There is beauty even in thorns and thistles.
We talked about the definition of a weed being "a plant that is in the wrong place." Liz didn't want thistles in the garden, so they were weeds. But in the right place, they have their own beauty.
Thistles are thriving in the wild stretch between the railroad and the bike path, south of campus. Some have thrust their thistle heads higher than I am, and they are beginning to bloom. Eventually there will be seeds and the goldfinch will rejoice.
Churches that follow the liturgical calendar generally reflect that in some way with the colors of their visuals -- green for ordinary time, purple for Lent and Advent, white for Eastertide, reds and oranges for Pentecost.
Our garden has its own cycle of colors. In early spring it is the yellows of daffodils and forsythia, then a blaze of orange poppies, and the greens of growing grass and new leaves. Right now we're in the second round of spring, with the purples and whites of iris, salvia, daisies, and kousa dogwood.
And there is plenty of new life -- bees and wasps and spiders, and the neighborly baby bunny that hops through our backyard, nibbling on clover and eyeing the peas in the garden.
First berries from the garden! Except for those that were ripening, and then vanished thanks to a squirrel or chipmunk. And if you peer closely at these, you'll see a robin or some such avian visitor helped themselves to a peck of strawberry.
After a warm March and early blooms on the berries, we spent numerous April nights covering them against frost. Despite some losses, we're seeing plenty of developing fruit now -- strawberries, raspberries and blueberries.
Our neighbor's tree is in bloom and fits well with these lines I read Sunday in a psalm by Thomas Merton:
Today, Father, this blue sky lauds you.
The delicate green and orange flowers of the tulip poplar
tree praise you.
The distant blue hills praise you, together with the sweet-smelling air that is full of brilliant light.
p. 47, in Book of Hours
Unfortunately the blue hills are indeed distant, as are some of the other praising images Merton offers.
And in the past few weeks, I've heard from three friends that their parents recently learned they have cancer. Another friend is in the throes of chemotherapy and side effects, after surgery for breast cancer. Pastor Heidi is in the midst of her own struggles with the side effects of treatments. And the young teenage son of a cousin was hospitalized after ingesting muratic acid, a side effect to a school bullying situation.
And yet the sun shines, and the spring flowers keep opening, and the bees buzz their praise. And the toddler grandson of another friend has had a successful heart transplant, the cousin's son is responding well to medication, and those with cancer are receiving the best help that the medical world can give them.
Life is always such a mix of joy and sorrow.
So, with awareness of that mix of sorrow and joy, I'll join in with Merton's later lines in the psalm:
I too, Father, praise you, with all these my brothers [and sisters],
and they give voice to my heart and my own silence.
We are all one silence, and a diversity of voices.
You have made us together,
you have made us one and many,
you have placed me here in the midst as witness,
as awareness, and as joy.
Here I am. p 47, Book of Hours
On May 13 in1373, Julian of Norwich received the sixteen visions that she spent the next twenty years or so contemplating, writing about and living out.With Mother's Day coming on May 13 this year, it seems fitting to include some quotes from the passages where Julian writes of Jesus as Mother. It's hard to pick one succinct quote, so here are several from chapters 58 and 59, interspersed with some spring flowers, in honor of our mother Jesus.
And so in our making, God almighty is our loving Father, and God all wisdom is our loving Mother, with the love and goodness of the Holy Spirit, which is all one God, one Lord.
Our great Father, almighty God, who is being, knows us and loved us before time began. Out of this knowledge, in his most wonderful deep love, by the prescient eternal counsel of all the blessed Trinity, he wanted the second person to become our Mother, our brother and our savior. From this it follows that as truly as God is our Father, so truly is God our Mother.
And so Jesus is our true Mother in nature by our first creation, and he is our true Mother in grace by his taking our created nature.
I understand three ways of contemplating motherhood in God. The first is the foundation of our nature's creation; the second is his taking of our nature, where the motherhood of grace begins; the third is the motherhood at work. And in that, by the same grace, everything is penetrated, in length and in breadth, in height and in depth without end; and it is all one love.
It was the perfect day for working in the garden today -- soil the right moisture for easy weeding, warm but not too hot, and no mosquitoes. So I've been working hard, which leaves me with little energy for blogging. But there are still photos -- I've been fascinated by the patterns of unfurling ferns, and of ferns in light and shadow. So here are several on that theme, mostly taken earlier this week.
Sunday I read the following passage, part of a canticle by Thomas Merton in A Book of Hours, edited by Kathleen Deignan, and it resonated with the fiery light of sunlight flowers I encountered that morning.
For, like a grain of fire
Smouldering in the heart of every living essence
God plants His undivided power--
Buries His thought too vast for worlds
In seed and root and blade and flower,
Until, in the amazing shadowlights
Surcharging the religious silence of the spring
Creation finds the pressure of its everlasting secret
Too terrible to bear.
Then every way we look, lo! rocks and trees
Pastures and hills and streams and birds and firmament
And our own souls within us flash,
and shower us with light,
While the wild countryside, unknown, unvisited
Bears sheaves of clean, transforming fire.
And then, oh then the written image, schooled in sacrifice,
The deep united threeness printed in our deepest being,
Shot by the brilliant syllable of such an intuition,
And plants that light far down into the heart of darkness
And plunges after to discover flame.
Book of Hours, p 49 -50.
In Lost in Wonder, Esther de Waal recommends carrying a magnifying glass to augment the art of paying attention. "The eye of the glass reveals without judging or analyzing: it simply lights up." p. 8.
Walking with a camera does much the same thing. I walk more slowly, and I look again, and I see things I never would without that second look.. A few days ago, I stopped to watch the butterflies that were feasting on a blossoming bush, and then discovered scores of this pale green insect, whatever it is.
Others of the same ilk were enjoying the flowers that are starting to open up in the patch of native prairie plantings.
I'm used to seeing ants prowling the peony buds
but apparently they also enjoy columbine.
My sister has a long bed of lily-of-the-valley on the north side of her garage, and they are filling the air with fragrance right now. I picked a five inch stalk of the tiny bells to carry inside this afternoon, and discovered I had a passenger. He's just leaning back and enjoying the ride, apparently. And possibly smoking a hookah, like the Caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland. What an amazing world.
My approach to contemplative photography --
Tell about it."
Mary Oliver in "Sometimes"