Saturday, February 27, 2010

Lights and a Birthday

Today marks a year that I have been blogging, and that seems like an opportunity to tell the origin of my blog's name. I only now looked on Wikipedia for the vesperal hymn "O Gladsome Light," which when I hear or sing it always imparts something of the reality of the Trinity of which it tells. When I first thought of writing a blog, there was no other name that ever came to mind, even though I feared it might be presumptuous, to put it mildly, to take that title for my own.

But just as we Christians are to be "little Christs," so I see that all the gifts I write about come from Him, and anything good that comes from me is a lesser light emanating from God. So I post a candle picture in thanks to Him. I like the little dot at the bottom, a lesser, mirrored light. My tiny candle, or reflection of a candle.

As we are reminded in the first chapter of James: "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning."

O Gladsome Light of the holy glory
Of the Immortal, heavenly, holy, blessed Father,
O Jesus Christ....

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Flowers of Matins

One lovely thing about attending more Matins services during Lent is being able to see the flowers in the early morning light. When I walk out the church door to my car, I reach for my camera, and --more often than not, it's missing!

This morning I found it in the pocket, and walked around a while snapping pictures.

This first one of a camellia has a stray redwood twig hanging on. We have a lot of those cluttering up the garden beds, as there is at least one tall Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) on the property. Check out the link if you are unclear about the different types of redwood trees.

Long ago when I was in labor of childbirth with my Valentine baby, a friend brought me a bouquet of daphne for my bedside; that was my introduction to the heady scent of this plant. I never realized until this month that I've been looking at it growing at church for several years.

This afternoon I had another photo opportunity and my camera was home on the computer table where I'd been uploading these pics. So now, I've put it back in my purse, and I'm considering an outing tomorrow for the sole purpose of photo-shooting, to catch more glimpses of early spring in my neighborhood.

Kindly or Beastly

My raccoon friend hasn't been around lately, that I've seen. And most of the wandering cats have been scarce, now that Blackie has marked the back yard and comes several times a day to see if anything is in the bowl. Actually, Blackie is now only his nickname, and his real name is now Jim, after Huckleberry Finn's fugitive friend.

I'm surprised at myself, calling that 'coon My Friend. But when I first blogged about him, Janet at Across the Page told me about the book at left, which I promptly ordered and have received.

It tells about a lady who is generous toward a mendicant raccoon, and later is the happy recipient of an inadvertent good deed (is that an oxymoron?) performed by the beast.

I admit it made me think more kindly of the fellow I saw, though he is as big as a bear. Some people have cautioned that raccoons wandering about in daylight might carry rabies. But others have said it is a myth that raccoons are primarily night animals. They are perfectly healthy and happy foraging in the daytime.

Lately I've been waiting for Jim to show himself before I put anything in the bowl--mostly to avoid feeding the raccoon. Since I do live in suburbia, I suppose my neighbors would not appreciate it if I were to start encouraging woodland creatures to visit more than they already do. Raccoons are cute, but those opossums that might follow after are hideous.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

February Travels

It's almost three weeks since I drove north to the home of Seventh Grandson; that's the trip that began with cherries. I thought that before the seasons change any further I'd better make my report of the expedition.

Soon after the sighting of cherries, I was driving through country with bare-branched orchards. They always look so gorgeous as I speed along; when I stop to take a picture my efforts never capture the majesty and expanse. I think these must be almonds, because I'm pretty sure they are not walnuts or pears, which I would expect to be there.

Farther up the state from the volcanic peak by which I saw the cherries, there is this one. We have a whole string of such dramatic mountains running up the western states, and on our travels we can mark our progress by spying them in the distance long before we get close.

When I got within five minutes of my goal, the rain had turned to snow, and several inches fell that night, after I snapped some pictures to compare with last summer's shots. You can see Spike the deer next to the yellow shed that is in the middle of a snowfield now.

Things are much milder, however, than last month when a wild snowstorm dumped record amounts of snow on this homestead, knocking out power for days and keeping my daughter and her husband busy melting water on the stove and carving out tunnels to outbuildings.  The next two snowy pictures are of that episode, from which they have largely returned to normal.

For several days I worked to get to know that dear little stove, but I'm not sure I ever figured out how to keep a slow fire going; it was either too hot, or it went out.

20 years ago I bought these boots from Eddie Bauer for the rain, but they served pretty well for the small amount of tromping around in the snow I did.

A lucky new cat is living in the house, bringing the total temporarily to four. This one is called Little Cat, because the householders are hoping to find another home for the foundling, and don't want to give him a real name yet. He has upset the feline social order to the point where various ones are snarling and facing off several times a day, especially near dinnertime.

If Little Cat is still needing a home after my remodeling project is done, I hope to adopt him myself. He has the cutest cat face I've ever seen.
While I was there I finally finished putting a drawstring into this bag that contained the 7th Grandson Quilt. You can see it with just a ribbon around it and the quilt inside, and now with its black string to match the checkered bottom.

It's a weirdly shaped bag because I made it from leftover fabric to match and house the quilt, but I thought perhaps someday it could hold an overflow of stuffed animals or some blankets or ???, in which case the drawstring would make it much more handy.

7th Grandson himself, of course, was THE focal point of my stay. He doesn't like lying on his tummy on the floor, but it's thought good for the boy to do a little Pilates work there. Children these days spend so much time in car seats and such. I caught his photograph before he became totally irate.
Before I had to return home, rain washed the snow off the trees, and the sun came out. Soon I'll be loading up the car to make another visit! It will be interesting to see what changes have occurred in one month, and what adventures might lie in my path.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Poetry and Tea

It's a rainy Sunday afternoon, which makes the idea of tea and poetry sound really good, especially if there were a blazing fire near the table that I'd drape with a soft tablecloth. Brave Writer has shared a splendid tradition that I never thought of instituting when I had my little poetry-memorizers around me, but at this moment I sorely regret it.

The picture is from a tea party I gave in honor of my friend Bird, now 98 years old. We like to share our favorite poems with each other when we get to visit.

I will post one in her honor here today.

Introduction to Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

--Billy Collins  

Friday, February 19, 2010

Review: For the Time Being

Giacometti said, "The more I work, the more I see things differently, that is, everything gains a grandeur every day, becomes more and more unknown, more and more beautiful. The closer I come, the grander it is, the more remote it is."

This clip from the book is as good an introduction to Annie Dillard's book For the Time Being as anything I could write. I've been struggling for months now to write a simple review, but I'm not equal to the task. It occurred to me that I could let Dillard speak by transcribing some passages (in boldface) from the book. I hope they are not enough to be copyright-infringing.

There is always a lot of factual knowledge, especially of geography, history, and natural science, in her books. In this one you learn things about Mao Tse-tung, about the Aztecs, the Romans, and grotesque birth defects. Many statistics about natural things and about what percentage of us are dead, and many stories and sayings of Teilhard de Chardin, who I think is a kindred spirit to her: Do you suffer what a French paleontologist called "the distress that makes human wills founder daily under the crushing number of living things and stars?"

Annie Dillard does suffer this way, as many theologians may suffer from contemplating mankind, the universe, and the finite mind's inability to take it all in, much less neatly organize it and find ultimate meaning. Augustine said to a group of people, "We are talking about God. What wonder is it that you do not understand. If you do understand, then it is not God."

If the mystery of life makes you uncomfortable, if you like a good reductionist dogma, I don't think you will enjoy Dillard in most of her writing. Even I tire of her eventually, as she sometimes appears to be a woman who could be described by II Timothy 3:7: "Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." She likes to see how everything is connected, and I agree, it all is connected, but we have been given the key to the mystery in Jesus Christ, who reveals the Holy Trinity to us, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.

Several Jewish theologians down the centuries figure in this particular compendium, her favorite being from the Ukraine in the 18th Century:...the Baal Shem Tov delighted in the spark, the God within. This is not pantheism, but pan-entheism: The one transcendent God made the universe, and his presence kindles every speck of it. Each clot of clay conceals a coal. A bird flies the house. A live spark heats a clay pot.

The thousands of wealth have fallen with wonders, said Rabbi Nathan of Nemirov. Do you find this unclear? It certainly sounds like the sort of thing thousands of wealth do.

And Buddhists: They say there is a Buddha in each grain of sand. It is this sort of pop wisdom that makes the greatness of Buddhism seem aggravating.

"God is in the details" might be Annie Dillard's motto, as she does always bring all these bits and pieces to bear on a quest for the Ultimate. Every event, every piece of matter, can speak of God. But not in its specialness--rather, its ordinariness. However, It is literally sensible to deny that God exists.

These times of ours are ordinary times, a slice of life like any other. Who can bear to hear this, or who will consider it?

The closer we grow to death, the more closely we follow the news. Year after year, without ever reckoning the hours I wasted last week or last year, I read the morning paper. I buy mass psychotherapy in the form of the lie that this is a banner year.

So, we are not the center of the universe, but there is meaning, and it has something to do with a transcendent God, not foggy pop wisdom and not a gnostic sort of dualism. The thing to do is to engage, to plunge into life in all its materiality and chaos, and make yourself useful.

As Martin Buber saw it--writing at his best near the turn of the last century--the world of ordinary days "affords" us that precise association with God that redeems both us and our speck of the world.

[Teilhard] "Purity does not lie in a separation from the universe, but in a deeper penetration of it."

[In an introduction to an account of birds mating in Galilee] Our lives come free; they're on the house to all comers.... God decants the universe of time in a stream, and our best hope is, by our own awareness, to step into the stream and serve, empty as flumes, to keep it moving.
The first book I read by Dillard was An American Childhood, the story of her youth in the mid-20th Century, and I'd have to say that God used it to make me consider all the many details of my own childhood and how they combined in a significant story that God was writing. In all her books I have read I am impressed with her vision of the sacredness of matter, even while she can't figure it all out. She accepts her own embodiment and relishes her sensate being, which of course feels more real than the intangible.

[Teilhard] "If I should lose faith in God, I think that I should continue to believe invincibly in the world."

[when we who are alive now are dead] the living might well seem foolishly self-important and overexcited.

One reason I have spent a ridiculous number of hours trying to write about Annie Dillard, is that the quality of her writing seems to demand a comparable response. She doesn't waste a word; there is no fluff, and I know that she has a reason for juxtaposing the paragraphs on sand and death and Chinese warriors just so. Surely I could study this one book like the Bible, and keep getting more out of it.

I would get not just philosophy and theology, but also whatever the evasive thing is that one learns from reading a lot of good writing. In The Writing Life she teaches by example, both by relating her attitude and ruthlessness toward second-best work, and in the way she respects the language and makes the most of its potential.

I still haven't looked up all the words--at least 25 in 204 pages--that were completely new to me, including einkorn, heiratic, schleppernish, and geomantic. Saltate is one I will remember, as Dillard used it three times, first to describe the action of sand: Mostly, the continents' streams and rivers make sand. Streams, especially, and fast rivers bear bouncing rocks that knock the earth, and break themselves into sharp chips of sand. The sand grains leap--saltate--downstream. Later she uses this word, which can also mean to dance, along with another new one, knap: Jerusalem....we have come saltating to worship here--to knap ourselves round.

I'm not sure I could come up with a good closing paragraph if I gave it another hour's effort. My apologies for the inferior review that took me so long; I justify it on a principle I'm not sure Annie would agree with: Any job worth doing is worth doing poorly, at first while you practice.

So I will close with another snippet from the book, a thought that I'm confident is connected to everything else I've put down here. It's mostly a quote from John Muir in 1869:

"What can poor mortals say about clouds?" While people describe them, they vanish. "Nevertheless, these fleeting sky mountains are as substantial and significant as the more lasting upheavals of granite beneath them. Both alike are built up and die, and in God's calendar, difference of duration is nothing." 

Thursday, February 18, 2010

God Sent a Robin

A robin chirped at me this morning before I got out of bed, and what a lot he had to say!

First, he reminded me of his great-great grandfather, who had spent a whole spring and summer several years ago just bringing a message of love and care from my Father. In those days, every morning I woke to that bird's song, and every evening as I chopped vegetables or washed dishes, I got used to his company just outside my window.

Not that I ever saw him--he hid somewhere in the trees, or perhaps perched on the roof above my head. I would leave my cooking and wander outside looking for him, because at the time I didn't know what species the voice belonged to.

Naturalist Daughter had left a set of bird call tapes in her bedroom when she went away to college, and I listened to the two hours' worth of sample bird songs, but didn't hear My Bird. When she came home one weekend she heard him and said, "Oh, that's a robin!" Today I can easily find this page online that might have answered my question then. Or this book with recorded bird calls, given to us by the same daughter more recently.

My 2010 Robin brought his greeting thus: "cheerily cheer-up cheerio." At least, that's how the birders describe it. I got the meaning rather than the sound, and it was clear enough.

And he said, "Attend!", confirming my prayer of yesterday's blog. I thought back to our first years of homeschooling and a unit study the children and I did. It was structured around character qualities, beginning with those most essential for learning. The first was Attentiveness, and the nature/science aspect of the unit was birds, because one needs to focus and concentrate one's mind if one wants to notice birds in the first place.

We set up a tray feeder right outside our big window next to the dining table, and every day the towhees, finches and jays would visit and fascinate us. Nothing like that was possible to replicate when we moved to our present house, and any kind of bird feeder only made it easier for the cats to make a meal of any creature in feathers.

"Attend!" is a word we often hear in church, because even there we forget What is Happening and Who is Present. Of course the reverential tuning and turning of our hearts and minds is a key to the spiritual life, and it's a habit I could despair of ever learning.

This morning I was almost afraid to get out of bed, for fear of getting swept up in the hurricane of decisions and dilemmas about what to focus on, what to do first. Should I phone my lonely friend a tenth time, hoping to get through and make a lunch date? If I don't, what will I do with these quarts of soup I just made? Am I getting another sore throat? Perhaps I need to run downstairs and gargle first thing. Should I go to Matins, or the gym, or stay home and vacuum?

I did the only thing I could be sure of, and began my prayers before putting my feet on the floor.
O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth,
Who art everywhere present and fillest all things,
Treasury of blessing, and giver of Life,
Come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity,
And save our souls,
O Good One.
At a time like this, free-form prayers are of little use. Besides, who could improve on the above? It's a wonderful beginning for what we want to be A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, to use the evocative title of a book I've never read.

I was still there when Robin started in. One thing I heard was this discussion he had with another of God's creatures:
“Overheard in an Orchard” by Elizabeth Cheney

Said the robin to the sparrow,
"I would really like to know
Why those anxious human beings
rush around and worry so."

Said the sparrow to the robin,
"Friend, I think that it must be
That they have no Heavenly Father
such as cares for you and me."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lenten Spring Things

It's Lent now, so I think of everything in that context. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, at least some of us have Spring during Lent, so I want to note that in pictures.

What got me going was the graceful manzanita trees at the library yesterday. Theirs have white blossoms. When I came home, I wanted to take a picture of our backyard bush in pink.
 The photo shows the ubiquitous weeds and fallen pine needles that tell of my absence. That's the snowball bush in the background; it hasn't budded out yet.

After chilly weather, rain, and a bad cough kept me from even venturing into the garden for several weeks, suddenly one day the sun was shining and I was taking pictures of all the blossoms, the cherry plum tree and violets, too.

B. had been up the ladder pruning the wisteria on the arbor.

Many years I completely miss the violets, their visit is so brief.

Now, about Lent....I have to say I'm off to a disappointing start on several fronts. From one perspective, Lent seems long. That is, if one is thinking only of struggling and feeling defeated.

Or if one feels deprived, and is waiting for feasting to begin again. But Father Michael said Lent is not about deprivation, but rather, "Taste and see that the Lord is good."

Which made me think of  Isaiah 55:2: "Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness."

Lent feels short, when I think how slow I am to get with the program of fattening my soul instead of my body. I will almost surely miss this brief opportunity, or at least, fail to make good use of it. I must try not to fret; but how to keep my trying from turning into more fretting...?

All these springtime blooms are helpful to look at, because they bring to mind another picture from Metropolitan Kallistos Ware: "Repentance is not self-flagellation; it is an opening flower."

I know that my Heavenly Father clothes the lilies of the field, just as He will give me this day my daily bread, Himself my Bread of Life. Now if I will just pay attention and eat from the loaf that tastes good, and nourishes the soul.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Winter Weblog Gleanings

The Broken Computer has prolonged the interruption of my blogging, following hard as it did on the Expedition Without Camera Cable. I've been back from wandering for several days, but as I have a dear house guest it's just as well that I have the machinery problem as my excuse for not blogging. When I get the computer back I'll have even more things to tell about.

While I'm being otherwise occupied I've still found some time to read blogs, on son P's computer. Posts that have been stimulating include one on Spring Cleaning, with a day-by-day plan carrying the author from one end of Lent to the other. This is a new concept for me, and truly inspiring. We are remodeling during the upcoming months at this house, though, so I will have to try her tidy method some other year, and concentrate on packing up many of my books and all of my kitchen things starting yesterday.

Is it easier to keep a small house clean? That depends. When our family of seven moved from a small house to a big one, suddenly our home seemed cleaner and neater just because there was more space. But the blog This Tiny House is delightful to dream over, the treehouses and little dwellings of various kinds. A recent post is about a tiny vehicle, actually, but might be a fine introduction if you've never visited there.

Many people, I've noticed, give up TV for Lent. I myself agree with Groucho Marx, who said he found TV very educational: "When someone turns on the TV, I go in the other room and read a book." Whether you watch or not, you might agree with me that this verse by Roald Dahl is amusing.

A woman I know is trying to find a lot of cooking blogs, as she's reveling in the idea and trend of Slow Food and recipes. It made me happy to point her to this blogger who opens up a full 60 other cooks' worlds. Take note, all you snowed-in people (and that includes 3/5 of my own children!) that the theme of his recent group of links is Warming Dishes. Comfort food!

Last and most pertinent to this weekend, I'm sure, is a musing on Forgiveness Sunday.

I hope you enjoy one or more of my finds.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Mystery of Cherries

Two days ago I set out on a journey, perhaps even an expedition. I forgot to bring my camera cable so I can't start posting my travelogue. Unless...Unless I tell about something that happened before I started taking pictures, something that may not be related to anything else I've been doing.

I was not an hour from home, driving through a little rain, twisting and turning on a road that winds along the slopes of a volcanic mountain. Coming around a curve, I spied at a turnout a gallon jar that I am fairly certain was full of maraschino cherries. It was just sitting there neatly upright in the middle of the wide flat area of dirt. Of course my resourceful self said, "Stop! Someone has left a treasure for you."

That thought was just a flash. There was no way to safely stop, and anyway, I certainly don't need those confections, even if I could know they weren't poisoned or something. But for miles and hours I kept returning to those red cherries in my mind, and wondering how their random appearance might eventually tie in to this whole trip. I normally like to see how everything does connect.

It might not be random; I looked that word up, because I rarely use it. Random means "occurring without definite aim, reason, or pattern." I don't know the story behind the event. Did someone have a reason for stopping and dropping off the jar? If it had simply fallen out of a vehicle it couldn't have landed upright. I can be reasonably confident that there is no pattern to be discovered. Unfortunately my mind doesn't naturally imagine stories to explain odd occurrences, so I can't make use of this sighting in that creative way. At this point it doesn't look like I will be able to fit an out-of-place jug of cherries into the flow of my journey. But there it was.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Doll in Blue

When I first saw the needle-felted dolls people were selling on the Internet it was love at first sight. I can look at pictures of them for hours, and I have dreamed of learning the art. My daughter also loved them; she is more likely to get around to teaching herself to create her own than I am.

At Christmas she gave me this exquisite example made in Israel. This little lady and her cat both have limbs that can be repositioned, and if he jumps out of her arms to go prowling about it will be o.k. I adore her fat red braids, which are set off nicely by that blue hat and dress.

So I have my own soft featherweight doll to hold in my hands, not just to look at. Certainly my feelings for her go beyond infatuation--I'm confident they will prove to be enduring devotion.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

My Favorite Neglected Feast

Today is one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the Orthodox calendar; therefore I think it excusable if I postpone the many pressing mundane tasks and meditate a little longer on one of my favorite celebrations.

As long as I can remember, the story of Christ being presented in the temple as an infant has brought tears to my eyes, because of the constancy and joy of Simeon, a "just and devout man" who had throughout a long life been waiting and praying for the Messiah. His words express a single-minded heart--his purpose in faithfully waiting had been fulfilled. What a sweet reward, to be the one to receive and hold the Christ!

When Jesus was brought to the temple at 40 days old, according to the law, Simeon (Luke Chapter 2) "... took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, 'Lord, now lettest Thou thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word: For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.' "

Thanks to Deb, I found this series of very informative postings that Matt wrote, linking all the events of this day through history, including Groundhog Day, which I will now always remember, in the background. (I did love that movie, whose lesson of humility is applicable throughout the secular or church year.) It is a neglected feast, our priest noted this morning, though our numbers weren't too small this morning for Divine Liturgy.

Candlemas is another name for the holy day, and the church East and West has traditionally blessed candles on this day. I love candles as much as anyone. It's been a happy thing to find that Orthodoxy has a whole day and an important feast that commemorates one of my favorite events in our salvation history. I leave carrying candles to burn at home and stretch out the joy for a good while, brightening and lightening up these winter days.