Wednesday, October 29, 2014

In Good Order

Neighbor Frank keeps a very tidy front yard, and he spends a fair amount of time out front.  If you are driving by, wave, and he will happily wave back.  However, if you are walking by and he is outside, be prepared to pause and converse.  He enjoys a good old fashioned chin-wag as much as anyone I know.   

Yesterday, I was very glad to see him out front tending to one of his hedges.  As I was walking past his house about a week ago, the very slight smell of skunk caused me to pause.  If you have ever had a dog sprayed by a skunk, that scent will always cause you to stop and quickly look around, even though your logic is telling you that the skunk you smell has made good use of the moment and moved right along.  
After I had confirmed that there was no skunk in my immediate environment, I looked down and saw a plant covered with these intriguing blossoms.  I realized the smell was coming from the plant. 
I didn't have much time to linger that day and it took a few days for me to get back around to this plant.  The question I had in mind was "Did the plant get sprayed by a skunk or does the plant really smell that way?"
This time around Neighbor Frank was out front.   We conversed about this, that, and the other, and then I managed to let him know I had a question about a plant in his garden.     
"Yes, I am sure I know the plant you are talking about."  We walked over to it. "Very stinky.  My daughter bought it to help deter dogs and cats.  Not sure it really affects them, but it is a very fast grower. The smell keeps me from pruning it very much."  What brilliant plant strategy.  
However, I don't think this plant is  long for Neighbor Frank's yard, if for no other reason than it is threatening to take over a pretty and well behaved pink and white azalea.  The fact that his daughter planted it probably causes him to pause, but he is a pruner at heart and his heightened sense of order will probably win the day, and the yard.  I was grateful to see, and even smell it when I did.  I was reminded yet again of the miracle of creation. It is filled with plants and animals that attract, and those that repel. What a wonderful dance this life is.       

 No, I was not tempted to take a cutting home.  That is the blessing of photography. I can simply let life be.     
For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God.
Romans 8:19  

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Coming to Our Senses

I have noticed that when I am photographing flowers, smell is seldom a factor for me.  So much so that unless the scent is really powerful, I forget to sniff.  I become so immersed in the the movement between color, shape, and light that I pretty much forget everything else.  However, smelling flowers is one of the great joys in life, and I certainly do not want this important sense to go dormant.  In a society that is overladen with chemicals and artificially scented products, it is tempting to not even bother to smell our way around.  That, dear friends, is a loss we cannot afford.  
This week I was blessed to spend a couple of days with long-time friends at Villa Maria del Mar in Santa Cruz.  I think that each one of us at some point found ourselves exclaiming, "Doesn't the air smell wonderful?"  Sea air is so recognizable, that if we have stood on a beach just once and breathed in, I think we would forever recognize the smell should we return.  In fact, our relationship with the ocean may be so primordial that we might recognize the smell even if we have been blind desert dwellers all our lives. 

During this retreat I also witnessed something else about smell.  By the front door of the retreat house grows a lovely green plant in a pot.  Friday mornings are a busy time at the house as those of us who are finishing up week long retreats are vacating our rooms and packing our cars.  As I was walking into the house to turn in my keys, another guest, someone I did not know, was dashing out. She looked at the plant and exclaimed, "Mint!"  She then picked a leaf and declared that it smelled very good.  She then continued on her way.  
I love both the smell and taste of real mint and have some growing in our yard.  I did not recognize this plant as mint, but it certainly could be in the mint family.  I picked a leaf in anticipation.  

Nothing.  I did not smell mint, nor did I taste mint.   Either this woman's anticipation of mint over-rode her actual experience of the plant, or my senses are duller than I thought. I do hope it is the former.    
This morning I return to the dance of light and color - a picture actually taken on a foggy morning on a street just above the beach in Santa Cruz.  Alas, I cannot tell you if these roses have any scent.  Many hybrids don't, but I must not jump to conclusions.  I shall work on that.    
Today, may we breathe deeply and make room for all our senses.  Perhaps we do not live life but rather we are woven into its beautiful fabric. Let us pay rapt attention and give thanks for all the glorious threads.   
"Come," my heart says, "seek God's face!" 
Your face, O God, do I seek.   
Psalm 27:8   
The New Century Psalter


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Mistaken Identity

While the man whose name I thought was Carl attends worship irregularly, I was surprised to not see him this week.  When I asked about him, the assistants all agreed there was no one by that name.  Puzzled, I began to describe him as thin and in a wheelchair, but I realized that description was pretty generic. I took the plunge:  "Well, sometimes he can be a bit cranky."  
In unison they laughed and responded, "Earl.  He is still upstairs."  They gave me his room number, so I went to see him.   I don't always try to track down those who miss a worship service, but despite my not remembering his name, the last time I saw him we had had a good conversation about some of his frustrations.  I felt the need to follow-up.
Earl reminds me of an old feral cat.  He seems to yearn for companionship, but at times he almost hisses before he leaves the room.  He has some scars that lead me believe his life has not been easy.  He is testy, but I can't help but like him.     
I found him in his room watching an old western and looking quite forlorn.  He surprised me by taking my hand. 
We talked, and then he said he quietly said he was afraid of dying like his first wife.  "How did she die?"  He replied that she died trying to catch her breath.  He now has a traceha tube.  He added, "I wish I had not taken breathing for granted. I wish I could have been more grateful for my breath."  

I smiled.  "Earl, the good news is that it is not too late."   He looked out of the corner of his one good eye, and slowly smiled back.  Then he said, "OK, I will be in worship next time." 
As I left, he said, "God bless you."  I thanked him.  God had indeed done just that. 

Wearing God's Love

I do not know how much Jill really gets out of the worship service.  She is quite hard of hearing, and she is blind.  However, the assistants always see that she sits close to the piano, and she loves to take communion.  After the service this week, I asked her how she was doing.  

She smiled and replied, "Well, not too good.  My heart is not strong, and my arthritis is bothering me.  I cannot see or hear.  Not good for much." She then giggled her very delightful giggle. "But, they get me up every morning and decorate me."  

I could not help but laugh.  Whoever tends to her does so very lovingly.  Her hair is always in a tidy bun.  Her make-up is done with a light touch.  She always has on a simple print dress and stockings, and old-fashioned dangling earrings that she tells me she wins in bingo.  She really is quite beautiful.    

"Jill, you bring much joy into this world. That is good for so very much."  My response seemed to surprise her and we thanked one another as we hugged.  
Today is Sunday.  The world could probably use a break from our usefulness. Let us allow ourselves be gloriously clothed in God's love, and simply be.  That is surely useful enough.
Let my whole being bless the LORD...
how fantastic you are! 
You are clothed in glory and grandeur! 
You wear light like a robe...
Psalm 104: 1-2    

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Present

Yesterday's flower turned out to be a natal plum flower.   What a lovely thing. I had forgotten about the photograph, until I spotted this bud a couple of days ago.  I believe it, too, is a natal plum flower, just a different stage.  
I saw Mozelle last week.  One of the assistants mentioned that she is 98.  Mozelle retorted, "I am not 98. I am 95." She then looked at me and said, "You have a very beautiful face.  I think people trust you." 
I love Mozelle, but I knew she was not through.  I also knew that one must brace oneself to not take some of her follow-ups personally.  "But, you have very small eyes."
Of course, the image that came to mind was not one of beauty, but rather some poor beady-eyed, haggard chaplain.  We did not linger with that particular conversation thread.   
Yet, her comment led me to remember my father's eyes.  I think they may have been rather small as well.  However, he made good use of those eyes.  He was always looking, always noticing, always keeping an eye on the life around him.  Ranchers are like that.  They must pay attention and see what can easily be overlooked.  He loved the land around him,and even in the inevitable West Texas drought, I don't think he ever wearied of looking at it.  
Thank you, Mozelle.  I am grateful to remember that while life with Dad could be difficult, he probably was the one who taught me to not only look, but to try to see. 
Yes, she is 98. However, I am not going to be the one to tell her that.   She loves to laugh, and does so readily.  When she does, I often think of Sarah, listening to the angels and giggling, because she cannot believe she is to bear new life in what seemed to be barren land (Genesis 18).   

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Surprise

I came across this blossom a couple of months ago.  Its sweet, sweet scent tells me it must be in the gardenia family.  Like many of the flowers I photograph, its beauty caught me quite off guard.
Tomorrow, Oct. 15, marks my seven year anniversary with SpiritCare.  Like this lovely flower, the ministry has startled me with its beauty.  I am grateful.
May God's beauty and love astound you, today and always.   You are part of this ministry, and I thank you.  
One thing I ask of the LORD; 
this I seek: 
To dwell in the LORD's house 
all the days of my life, 
To gaze on the LORD's beauty, 
to visit God's temple.  
Psalm 27:4   

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Out of My Way (Or Perhaps Into)

Today was the day to visit a busy skilled nursing community in Alameda.  I then usually have a break until I am scheduled to be at a rehab hospital in San Leandro later in the afternoon. I try to use this break to pause and peruse an antique store, or like today, shop at a produce market I particularly like.  As I was putting quarters in the meter, I decided to add two more, and take a walk around the block. The weather has cooled just a bit, and my schedule, while not completely open, allowed me some time.    

I turned the corner, and walked a little further.  I was surprised to find a used book store.  I am always grateful to discover one, but I really was not going to stop.  Like most pastors, I have a lot of books, including several still waiting to be read.  However, on the shelf outside the store was a book about the work of the artist Paul Klee.  A beautiful book.  I tried to set it down twice, agreeing with myself that yes, it was a lovely book, but I really must remember that I have plenty of books.  Yet, the colors, shapes, and figures kept calling me.  I did some mental calculations.  I knew I had enough cash to buy the book, and I figured I could use my debit card at the market.   I counted out my money and claimed the book as my own. 
I continued on, and turned a corner again.  I was delighted to discover a charming bit of tile work at the entrance of a rather plain apartment building. I have attached a picture of some of the detail.  I could not find an artist's name, but I am so grateful that it exists. This sort of simple discovery is what leads me to walk around the block; take a different freeway exit, or park a little further from the door.  We are more than our routines, and I believe this quest to be a spiritual practice.  Certainly Jesus seemed to understand the benefits of a good wander.    
I did end up at the market, and bought, among other things, some beautiful peppers.  They are the color of an habernero, but shaped like a serrano.  I meant to ask if they were hot, but forgot.  I suppose, one way or another, I am in for another  surprise. 

Blessings on your journey.  May you always feel it beckoning you ever on.  


Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Ballet

Ruth and Ruby live in the same small skilled nursing community.  They are sisters, and both were both born in Arkansas.  Ruth loves our worship services; Ruby is quite ambivalent about them.  Ruth expresses herself quite coherently, but she is paralyzed from the waist down.  Ruby is stronger physically, although she is in a wheelchair, but like several others in this community, she has some dementia.  

When I arrived there this week, they were both in the activity room.  Ruth always reaches out to me and says, "Oh, honey, I am so glad to see you. It has been too long."  I am always glad to see her as well.  Then Ruby surprised me by saying, "Why, how nice of you to drop by!" She then continued to chat about things.  Ruth rolled her eyes as she often does when people get noisy.  I believe she has a deep need for silence, and that sometimes is not easy to come by in skilled nursing.   
As the service got underway, Ruth kept chatting, much to Ruby's chagrin.  Then Mary, who was sitting in front of me decided she wanted to pour some water from a pitcher into her glass.  However, she missed  her glass by quite a bit and water poured on the floor.  I kept talking about John 15 and how we all have a place on the vine and walked over and asked Mary and asked if I could pour some water for her.  I then gently moved the pitcher out of her reach, and motioned to the aide who was just coming into the room that a mop was needed.  He nodded and quickly returned with mop and a yellow "floor is wet" sign.  
At that point, Ruby decided that it was time for her to leave, but she was have trouble maneuvering her wheel chair between two other wheel chairs and the yellow sign. Pausing to ask Mary if she would mind if I moved her up a bit, I helped Ruby make it through the mini-maze.   Ruby said that she wanted to see what was "out there."  I sympathize with that longing, so once her chair had cleared the maze, I announced, "Ruby, you are free!"   With a whoop that would make any preacher proud, she raised her fist in the air and off she went.   I looked at Ruth who was smiling, but shaking her head and rolling her eyes.  She is a realist, and sure enough, it was not too long before one of the assistants brought Ruby back in. She did not seem to mind.  Perhaps that one moment of freedom was enough. And for some reason, more residents took communion that morning than ever before. 

I am grateful for a role in this dance.  We are knitted together with laughter, frustration, spills, bread, and song.  We belong to one another, and Christ is among us.  I am glad that I, too, belong.
Remain in me, as I remain in you. 
John 15:4   

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Yellow Bird Magnolia

I recently watched a Nature rerun of a look into some of the work of two Papua New Guinean biologists as they tracked and recorded the elaborate mating dances of the various species of the bird of paradise (the feathered variety, not the plants). Working in the jungles of this remote land does not look easy, and the patience to sit in a blind for days joined only by mosquitoes is not for the faint. However, I am grateful for their tenacity. The dances of the wildly beautiful male birds are stunning. They spread their wings and strut, puff, sing, and even swing upside down from a nearby branch while flaunting vibrant feathers of every hue, shape, and length. Some males were so diligent about clearing the dance floor of loose twigs and debris before the big dance that I think we could use one around the house.

However, maybe even more striking for me was the respectful, even tender way the biologists interacted with the tribal members who covet the colorful and dramatic feathers for their own elaborate dances. The study became a way to help the tribes understand how to preserve the headdresses created from the feathers to help alleviate some of the pressure on the bird population today. Such balancing acts we all need to learn. There is no part of nature that is not under some pressure from human activity, and no doubt, these tribes are experiencing encroachment as well. We humans have a long history of coveting beauty,strength, and land at any cost. Alas, it seems even dancing can take a toll.

The picture that is attached is not of a bird of paradise, but a yellow bird magnolia. A friend and colleague helped to identify it. Over the past few months, I have been surprised at the number of magnolia trees I am seeing in this area of San Leandro. Photographing the blossoms can be a little tricky. If the tree is mature, most of the flowers are too high to photograph. Also, the blossoms are short-lived. More than once I have kept an eye on an unfolding flower for a day or two, only to return and discover that I missed the apex. Fortunately, I am left, not with mosquito bites, but the whiff of a slight, sweet fragrance that perhaps is more intense in the hot, humid climate of their native south.

I understand the wind is expected to shift today, making the day grow hot. I am grateful for what I have seen, for the next time I am out and about, it will be different. We cannot control the wind, but maybe we can dance a little more lightly.

God saw how good it was, and God blessed them saying, "Be fertile, multiply, and fill the water of the seas; and let the birds multiply on the earth." 

Genesis 2:22

For more information on the program, use this LINK