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In the Nursery by Helen Allingham

Yesterday I sent a guest post on Psalm 23 and D. H. Lawrence's poem, Pax to my friend Robin Bate's blog, Better Living Through Beowulf. The Shpherd/King David compares himself to a sheep, the Lord as shepherd. The poet Lawrence imagines himself a cat, and the Living Lord the master/mistress who sits at the "board," (dining table) overseeing the house of the living. In both cases, the invitation is to be at peace, cared for by a powerful and loving God.

I also mention another psalm, to which the picture above alludes. For the entire post, click here.
 
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Girl with a Watering Can by Pierre Auguste Renoir

There are small tomato, pepper and broccoli plants sitting in a box in front of my sliding glass door. In addition to several dozen marigolds, they are waiting for my mother to come by and take them (along with lots of good advice) to one of my nieces, who lives in New Jersey. I received them up from my sister last week and now am anxiously hovering over them, lest they die on my watch.

When my mom returns for a few days, we'll be digging up a part of the side yard to make a perennial garden. The thought of finding and owning foxglove, bleeding hearts, lupine, columbine and irises again makes me almost giddy! Back in the days when I had a larger plot of lawn, I dug (well, my husband dug) a good bit of it up into garden. But now that I have a smaller area, and not a lot of sun, I have to content myself with flowers, which is like saying I have to be happy with only dessert.

There's nothing like getting dirt under one's fingers during the spring. Edgar Guest, whose poems I've posted here and here, offers gardening as a tonic for what ails you. All the drama you could ever want, (take that, you aphids!) and more...

Plant a Garden
Edgar House

If your purse no longer bulges
and you've lost your golden treasure,
If at times you think you're lonely
and have hungry grown for pleasure, 
Don't sit by your hearth and grumble,
don't let mind and spirit harden.
If it's thrills of joy you wish for
get to work and plant a garden!
 
If it's drama that you sigh for,          
plant a garden and you'll get it
You will know the thrill of battle
fighting foes that will beset it.
If you long for entertainment and
for pageantry most glowing,
Plant a garden and this summer spend
your time with green things growing.

        
If it's comradeship you sigh for,          
learn the fellowship of daisies.
You will come to know your neighbor
 by the blossoms that he raises;
 If you'd get away from boredom
 and find new delights to look for,       
Learn the joy of budding pansies
which you've kept a special nook for.

        
If you ever think of dying and you
fear to wake tomorrow
Plant a garden! It will cure you          
of your melancholy sorrow
Once you've learned to know peonies,    
petunias, and roses,
You will find every morning         
some new happiness discloses.


 

Yesterday morning I woke up from a familiar, though thankfully not as common now as it used to be, anxiety dream. These usually take the form of being late to/not finding a classroom where an exam is being proctored. What was unusual about this dream was that I was having trouble finding my way to the first day of class. I had done most of my homework (in finding the location) but when I got where I thought the class was, I was wrong. And all the people who should have been able to help, couldn't.

I'd had a twinge the night before that I needed to start organizing myself a bit more. Keeping ideas in my head was going to become cumbersome, and the dream was just the nudge I needed to get going. But I was also pretty tired, so I delayed getting started for a while and picked up Poetry for the Earth, an anthology I've been dipping into. At the bottom of the first page of the Introduction were these lines from Rainer Maria Rilke's The Eighth Elegy:

We've never, no, not for a single day,
pure space before us, such as that which flowers
endlessly open into.

Pure space. Unencumbered quiet. Pregnant emptiness.

I lay down on the guest room bed, soaking up the sunshine flooding through the windows and closed my eyes. Before I organized my activities, I needed to organize my thoughts. But what if I let them emerge, instead of directing them? My subconscious was obviously tuned into my life - hence the dream - but was there something more, some other ideas which wanted to open, grow, expand and were just waiting for the permission to do so?

The answer was yes. In the quiet, several thoughts came to mind. The importance of an upcoming event solidified, as well as an easy way to double my office space. As I moved into the rest of the day I felt focused and clear. The background noise had been pushed aside; in those peaceful moments there had been pure space before me. And the opening of several buds.
 
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Reflection of Clouds on the Water Lily Pond by Claude Monet


Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
(1 John 3:2,3)


What do you want to be when you grow up? That's a familiar question to ask a kindergartner, or someone about to head to middle school, maybe even a high school graduate. At some point, though, we stop asking and assume we've arrived. We've become "grown ups."

The Gospel reading puts us once again in those pre-adult years. "See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are!" John exclaims as he begins this chapter. In God's eyes, we are divine offspring, loved and cherished. All the privileges of the family connection belong to us. And still there's more. Because, although we are now dearly loved youngsters, we are still in the process of growing up.

The evolution of human beings is not over. We are on our way to becoming truly like God, a brand new species of men and women. And although what this looks like is still a mystery, John reminds us that we can participate in this trajectory of hope while we wait. By choosing to bathe ourselves in the water of God's love, more and more of who Jesus is floods into us. Until one day, like Jesus, we will be fully glorified - transformed into the reflection of ourselves that for now only God can see.
 
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Landscape with Olive Trees by Van Gogh

"Oh no," my friend wailed as we turned the corner. "They've cut down all the trees." I turned and looked. Along the field at the base of the hill, the line of trees which had once edged the large swatch of grass, punctuating the open space like so many colons, were gone. The landscape looked as forlorn as my friend.

Even if there is a good reason to cut down a tree - the ones behind our townhome have stretched their roots into the water pipes - it is hard not to grieve one's death. Especially when they have become dear friends, harbored neighboring squirrels, provided color, texture, architectural lines, shade, and eerily breathy pipes for the evening winds.

In The Trees are Down, the poet decries the demise of the great plane-trees at the end of her garden. By choosing to describe the lumbermen's talk as "common," she implies that they are oblivious to the sacredness of their task, their 'Whoops' and 'Whoas,' as out of place as whistling at a funeral. 

The energy of Spring is all about life. Even a rat, a "god-forsaken thing," deserves to be alive in Spring, she muses in the next paragraph. Perhaps a rat may die in the winter, but in the warmth of May, all creatures should be alive. The rat's death "unmakes" for a moment some of the joy, the verdant power of springtime.

And if the Spring was undone for a moment by noticing the death of a rat, so the cutting of the trees, these "great trees," signify an unmaking of the Spring which will have lasting implications. Having shared half her life with these woody guardians, the author mourns a deep personal loss. She is companioned by the quiet rain, weeping as the "whole of the whispering loveliness" is carted away.

The Trees are Down
Charlotte Mew

...and he cried with a loud voice;
Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees --
 
(Revelation)

They are cutting down the great plane-trees at the end of the garden.
  For days there has been the grate of the saw, the swish of the branches as they fall.
The crash of trunks, the rustle of trodden leaves,
With the 'Whoops' and the 'Whoas', the loud common talk, the loud common laughs of the  
  men, above it all.

I remember one evening of a long past Spring
Turning in at a gate, getting out of a cart, and finding a large dead rat in the mud of the 
  drive.
I remember thinking: alive or dead, a rat was a god-forsaken thing,
But at least, in May, that even a rat should be alive.
The week's work here is as good as done. There is just one bough
  On the roped bole, in the fine grey rain,
            Green and high
            And lonely against the sky.
                  (Down now!-)
            And but for that,
            If an old dead rat
Did once, for a moment, unmake the Spring, I might never have thought of him again.

It is not for a moment the Spring is unmade to-day;
These were great trees, it was in them from root to stem:
When the men with the 'Whoops' and the 'Whoas' have carted the whole of the whispering
   loveliness away
Half the Spring, for me, will have gone with them.

It is going now, and my heart has been struck with the heart of the planes;
Half my life it has beat with these, in the sun, in the rains,
            In the March wind, the May breeze,
In the great gales that came over to them across the roofs from the great seas.
           There was only a quiet rain when they were dying;
           They must have heard the sparrows flying,
And the small creeping creatures in the earth where they were lying---
            But I, all day, I heard an angel crying:
                   "Hurt not the trees."
 

Last week, I came upon this youtube via a friend on Facebook. I love to celebrate the imagination of kids, and it came warmly recommended, so I clicked on the arrow and sat back. It's a sweet story: a boy creates an arcade from old boxes his dad has around the auto parts shop he owns. Before life became so innundated with technology, this was a common enough past time for a lot of kids. I remember keeping large boxes from appliances for our children to build forts from. Growing up, my husband once had an entire city block in his back yard. Then it was timed for a "controlled burn" - you can imagine perhaps his mother's response.

Caine's arcade is complete with games, tickets, prizes and even a $2.00 fun pass. The only problem is business. That's when technology in the forms of short films and social media comes to the rescue. A kindly passerby is intrigued by Caine's project and after a fun pass' worth of games asks if he can make a movie of the Arcade. Along the way he decides to create an "event" so more people can see what Caine's been up to. He invites all of South Los Angeles to stop by. You'll see what happens in the video.

I think what I love most about this piece is its blend of old-fashioned creativity and kindness with new-fangled social media. What's great about living now doesn't have to be in conflict with the good old days. This video shows how we can combine the best of both those worlds and have a lot of fun along the way.

 
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Christ shows himself to Thomas by M.Hildreth Meiere, National Cathedral, Washington, DC


Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." 
John 20:27-29

One thing I love about Jesus is his willingness to meet us where we are at. Without blame. In yesterday's scripture we heard the story of Thomas, who doubts the witness of the other disciples and insists upon seeing the risen Lord for himself. “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe,” Thomas tells the other apostles.

When Jesus appears for a second time, Thomas is present. Jesus turns to him and offers to provide what Thomas says is necessary for belief. "Put your finger here and see my hands," he says. "Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Surprisingly enough, Thomas does not seem to take Jesus up on his offer; there is something about this encounter which immediately satisfies his desire to experience the truth of the Resurrection. "My Lord and my God!" he exclaims.

Jesus doesn't judge Thomas for his doubt. After all, the other disciples believe because they have seen. Instead, he gently offers the proof that Thomas needs. Which makes me wonder a couple of things.

First, what do we need to believe? Are we as honest with God as Thomas was with the other disciples? His request may sound a bit blatant, even belligerent to our ears, but this disciple is not shy about asking for what he wants. And God doesn't belittle, but honors that request.

Second, what does Jesus want us to believe? When I was growing up I connected the phrase "believe in Jesus" to giving assent that He was God, and that His death had in some way brought me forgiveness and adoption into God's family. And I still believe that's true. But there is more. To believe in Jesus also means to respond to an invitation to commit to the way of life that Jesus is living. To believe in the teachings and actions of Jesus, that they are good and true and life-giving.

And recently I've been encouraged to read this phrase in still another way. To not only have belief "in" Jesus, but also to have the belief (or faith) "of" Jesus. To think of and emulate the faith that Jesus had in the goodness of his Father, faith strong enough to follow the path laid out for him. That path led through the countryside of Israel, healing, feeding, taching and preaching the reality of the Kingdom of God. Eventually Jesus' belief in the ways of God would take him to the cross, anchoring a knowledge beyond a doubt that God would not only sustain him, but would vindicate him, raising him from the dead as Lord and King.

There is a blessing for those of us who have never have the experience of "seeing" Jesus in the flesh, who nevertheless believe in him. To expect that this belief will come without an authenticating experience is perfectly reasonable, after all, Jesus does not condemn Thomas for this desire. But once we find ourselves experiencing the love and power of God, where does our belief take us? Jesus wants us to step into his shoes, and carry on his desires, wherever that may take us, and however that may look, filled with his blessing.
 
Every spring I wait eagerly for the pink double cherry blossoms to burst into bloom outside my kitchen window. Since we live in a stacked townhome, I look out at branch level and feel like pink clouds have overtaken the sky. This year's early spring and then a not-too-surprising cold dip made me fear that the blossoms had frozen, but they tenaciously appeared.

Here's a poem by A.E. Housman, who had a similar love for the beauty of the cherry (although his blossoms were white, not pink.) The poem is one of 63 poems from a work entitled Shropshire Lad. Housman's work was infused by the brevity of youth  and the tenor of this poem reminds me of the famous opening lines from  Robert Herrick's poem  To the Virgins to make most of time. "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may," Herrick admonishes the young women, "Old time is still a-flying".

I hope you have a chance to get out this weekend and enjoy the loveliness of spring while it stil lingers.

from A Shropshire Lad
A. E. Housman

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
 
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Make All Things New by James P. Janknegt
Note: This is the last in the lenten series on hope.

If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
(1 Corinthians 15:19)

When Christ returned from the grave, his body had gone through a transformation. Paul tells us that what was "sown perishable, was raised imperishable", of a substance which made it compatible with a different world, the world to come. The hope of the resurrection is that this life is not the only life that there is. That another life, another reality exists beyond the threshold of death. And that one day it will burst through the barrier of death and be the only world we know, a new heaven and a new earth.
 
This belief in a future life, sometimes dismissingly referred to as “pie in the sky by and by” has often come under criticism by those who attack Christianity. It has been cited as a cause for a lack of concern with the world in which we live in now, a reason to ignore the environment, or the poor, or unjust laws, or the care of our bodies. But this critique is unfounded, as Christ's teachings lead us to be loving stewards of creation, involved in feeding and clothing the poor, committed to just societies and acknowledging our bodies as temples for the Holy Spirit.

A hope for a future world doesn’t negate our actions and  involvement in our present day to day life, an interest in civic duty, charitable giving, environmental responsibility or health care. Instead, it offers a reality check to the amount we are able to do. Despite the best efforts of a reformer, a Peace Corps volunteer, a social worker, at the end of the day there are failures for every success, tears for each burst of joy, regret for each celebration.

Like "all the king's soldiers and all the king's men" who look despairingly at Humpty Dumpty, shattered at the base of his wall, we can't put back together the pieces from the fall of mankind. And that is why Paul says, “if it is only for this life that we believe in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.” For the Christian, this life, although extremely significant, awaits a future life, where God "shall wipe away all tears from our eyes and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (Revelation 21:4)

It is easy to put  a God of love and power on trial in this world. Like Julian of Norwich, we agonize over the existence of sin and the sufferings that come from evil all around us. We wonder how a universe which is full of pain and distress could come from a truly loving and omnipotent God. Couldn't there have been a better way? we ask. "Sin is necessary," God replies to Julian in The Revelation of Love. But "all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."

The truth that we celebrate on Easter Sunday is that there is something more, something beyond the grave, that will not only balance the scales, not only restore what has been broken, lost and defiled, but will result in our becoming even more whole than we thought possible. In her visions, Julian is shown that God is indeed loving and powerful, and that he is also holding onto a mystery, one in which all the wrongs of the world shall be put to right in a way that will satisfy all of our questions. We cannot and will not know how it will happen now, but God does not want us to be in distress. He wants us to rest in the hope that the ending is happier than we can imagine.

Our hope is not only for ourselves, for we are only one of the many on this planet, but for every person who has ever lived, for each child that has ever suffered, each wife that has ever been betrayed, each man that has ever been despised. We even hope for those who have been our enemies and caused indescribable harm. We hope that this mystery of God shall make possible what to us seems utterly impossible. That in the life to come the loving power of the resurrection will put make all things well.
 
When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed.
Psalm 126:1
 
Mary sits outside the empty tomb. The angels have told her that Jesus is no longer there. He has risen. The words don’t compute. How could they? Jesus was the one who raised people from the dead. But he’s dead. He’s dead. Then the gardener comes and speaks her name. And the unbelievable becomes not yet believable, but somehow...true. Now what?

Preaching in front of the Easter banner, a clear blue butterfly on a background of soft white, the priest reminds us that for Mary, as well as for the rest of us, the resurrection remains a mystery. We can’t understand it. We can’t make sense of it, even as a sense of joy floods through our bodies, our minds cannot grasp what our emotions are experiencing.

How did this happen? Certainly this was a question in the minds of all who saw Jesus that Easter Sunday. But Jesus never gives an answer. At least not one that is recorded in the Gospels. It will take the disciples weeks, even years to come to an understanding of the events of Easter weekend, and to find words to describe what God was up to in the crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection of the God-man Christ.

The questions continue today. What happened at the cross? What does atonement really mean? These are hot topics of conversation on many blogs I follow. Pondering and answering those questions are important; they inform our attitudes and our behaviors. And getting them wrong can lead to tragedy, quenching the Spirit of love. But at best, we will only begin to understand. 
 
Several weeks before his death, Jesus heals a man who was blind from birth. After his sight is restored, the religious leaders ask him, How did this happen? You tell me, he responds, you’re the religious ones. All I know is that once I was blind, and now I see.
 
As we move into the Easter season, perhaps we should take some time to sit in the questions, to ponder the mystery. Something has happened which is incomprehensible. Many of us,  following in the steps of the risen Christ, have also undergone a metamorphosis. Like the butterfly emerging from the cocoon, we are a new creation. May we pause to wonder at our wings before we take to the skies.