A flock of geese crossed the southern sky during the second quarter of the high school football game. I looked at their silhouettes against the evening clouds,noting that something was wrong.
Usually geese are known for flying in a V formation. That’s what I expected. But these geese, although heading the same direction, were in chaos. One was in the lead, but the others were scattered to the left, the right, and elsewhere without any visible plan.
At first I thought they had just taken off and would soon find their familiar pattern. But that didn’t happen, even as they flew out of sight.
I wanted to shout at them, “Guys, you need some order!”
My limited knowledge of geese tells me that the V formation is done for aerodynamic purposes. Would these geese tire more quickly without their usual flight pattern? Had they never been taught how to fly?
We expect order and organization in certain things in our lives. When that doesn’t happen, we wonder what has gone wrong. We rely on patterns that hold true, but sometimes we discover that geese are not the only ones that need to get their act together. Even within ourselves we sometimes find chaos.
In the beginning…the earth was without form or shape,
with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters.
Then God said: Let there be light, and there was light.
As I looked out the third-floor window, my eyes rested on the tops of the maple trees surrounding the nearby parking lot. The sun shone on them, allowing me to see how each tree was starting to turn red…from the top down.
At street level I may not have noticed the crimson shade spreading from the very highest branches of these trees. Were the highest leaves turning first because it was cooler there, because there was more exposure to the sun or less sap from the roots? All I know is that I learned a lesson: trees do not change colors uniformly.
Fall coloration, a highlight of October for many of us, is a process. We see little signs of color changes. We notice some trees exhibiting reds and oranges before others. And we are usually disappointed when the peak season doesn’t linger longer…or when we miss it for some reason.
Change is sometimes sudden and sometimes takes time. It does not always come easily or speedily. It is change itself that we need to embrace.
Brilliance of color delights us, but not all changes come with majestic displays of reds, yellows, and oranges. To live is to change. As we discover and accept change, we also learn to let go of the familiar for the unknown.
“The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard ‘delay,’
but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish
but that all should come to repentance.”
More and more frequently I put on some music and spend time reading before going to bed. Sometimes, like now, I write instead of read. And at times, I just sit and think.
The music varies, but it is mostly classical. Ending the day with Sibelius, Bruch, or Brahms is unbeatable. The hour of the day, along with the music, helps my soul both soar and become restive at the same time.
For years I have felt that people do not have enough time for quiet reflection. Most people’s days are like being on a treadmill with someone turning up the speed. Events happen and conversations take place. Yet little time is spent processing what has been going on in one’s life.
My goal in writing these weekly meditations has always been to help other people reflect on what is viewed and experienced each day. It’s not just what I write that matters. I also desire to help others learn to make their own observations.
In the midst of all these little daily discoveries, God can easily be found. But first there has to be some time to reflect. For me that is what the time before going to bed is for.
“In those days he departed to the mountain to pray and he spent the night in prayer to God.”
I picked up a handful of buckeyes that had fallen from a tree at the local metro-park. Just at that moment a ranger walked up and reminded me that I could not take anything out of the park!
Just so you know, I am a strong advocate for protecting parks and don’t even pick wild flowers. Without thinking, however, I had been attracted to the buckeyes simply because they are fun to collect. With the ranger’s warning, I dropped my pickings on the ground.
And then, to justify myself, I asked why it mattered, ‘since those buckeyes would just lie on the ground until it snowed.’ The ranger quickly corrected me that squirrels love buckeyes and even store them up for the winter ahead. Did I want to deprive some squirrel of its Christmas dinner?
As if on cue, several more buckeyes fell from the tree at that point. We looked up, and there was a squirrel shaking the branch and causing them to fall.
I deferred to the ranger and walked away. Regardless of this moment of embarrassment, I still like buckeyes – both the kind that grows on the tree and the kind that plays football.
“If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty,
give him water to drink….”
The pink flower on the edge of the pond made me smile. I had not seen a mallow for several years. They grow in marsh areas, often rooted right in the water. The blooms are large and attractive, about the same size and shape as the domestic hibiscus.
In ancient days – going back to the times of the Romans and before – these flowers were known for their edible quality. The white interior of the root could be cooked into a delectable treat, the original marshmallow.
Nowadays we have confectioners’ creations of marshmallows. But before s’mores or mugs of hot chocolate demanded our present version, there were treats found directly in nature.
I have never cut open a root of a mallow. Who would want to disturb such beautiful plants? But I would do so if I were stranded on an island and running out of food. Marshmallows could possibly keep me alive – and happy – for a long time.
“His food was locusts and wild honey.”
Each time there is another foggy morning, I think…
School buses will likely run late. There are danger spots where the fog seems to rise up and envelop the car. People rushing to work may be putting themselves in harm’s way.
On the other hand…
Beautiful fog. Low-lying patches of white cloud. Something mystical about entering the fog and not having complete sight of the road. A connection between earth and heaven.
Fog can be seen in more ways than one. It can be dangerous and challenging. It also can be beautiful, poetic, and prayerful.
When God speaks to us, it is sometimes very clear. But many times the message is more foggy and circumspect. I have come to embrace the fog of revelation and accept what is there even without clarity.
“At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face.
At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.”
Many evenings just after dusk I can hear the shriek of a night hawk coming from the small woods a hundred yards east of my back yard. It may be a sound of terror for some small animals, but for me it is simply a sound of the night.
While sitting on the patio the other evening, hoping once again to hear the hawk, I spied an owl on the very top of the pole near the high school baseball field. I didn’t see it land there, but its silhouette against the dark gray sky showed that it was looking over the field for some small creature to venture forth.
I often wonder what life is like after dark. There must be an entire world out there of insects, mammals, birds, and more. By day everything looks calm and predictable. At night there are both predators and prey among the local wildlife.
Sadly, I feel left out of the night life of nature. As I have grown older, I have come more and more not simply desirous of knowing the natural world but also finding my place alongside all that nature has to offer. In short, I want to experience kinship with all these beloved creatures of God.
This desire itself has helped me appreciate the magnitude of God’s love that led to the incarnation of God’s son, one who lived in our world and with us.
“And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory….”
I recall watching a child going from one Christmas gift to the next. She picked up a doll and loved it, but then put it down when she saw a book with brightly-colored pictures. That book was discarded when she saw some sort of musical instrument. And on and on… There was a richness of gifts around her, and each one stole attention from the previous one.
That’s how I felt two weeks ago when I received an amazing gift of more than three dozen books by and about Thomas Merton. I started to read one, then put it down to check out another, and then another.
Those who don’t know Merton may be surprised to know that he wrote a great number of books, many of which are still in print. (Readers may recall that Pope Francis made an explicit and extended reference to Merton when he addressed the U.S. Congress last fall.) Over the years I have read all those books considered the essential ones. But now I am discovering the lesser ones, the correspondence, and the journals. The seven volumes of journals that Merton wrote as a monk, along with his journal from before his conversion, are especially interesting. They tell a story of a man’s life, his discovery of God, and a new understanding of God in his life.
I am not into hero worship, but I have learned that people who have honestly examined life and have the ability to write about it are worth noting. For me, this gift of books will keep on giving for a long time, especially as I start to settle down and see which books I want to digest first.
“all good giving and every perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of lights,
with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change.”
One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn is that, when hiking in metro-park or state park, I must stay on the path. Certainly, there is the rebellious spirit that entices me to go off the trail. But more than that, I grew up hiking in woods that had no prescribed paths.
My brothers and I spent countless hours exploring neighboring woods. My uncle had two areas of native woods on his farm. Other neighbors also had old stands of trees. We had carte blanche to hike where we desired.
So we would go as the spirit moved us. Over time we more or less designed our own destinations and created certain routes. Paths were formed simply by frequent wear. But we also felt free to take short cuts, go off in any direction to explore, or seek out new sights. More than once I found myself embroiled in briars from which I couldn’t extricate myself.
To this day, I find it hard to stay on a path. But I do so when I remember that departing the trail might mean tramping over the delicate ecological balance of flora and fauna – something that I don’t want to disturb.
Nonetheless, there are times when I feel called to depart someone else’s paths planned for me. The wisdom of life is to know when staying on the path is best for all and when becoming a trail blazer is what is called for. I also know that when I dare to go a different way, I have to be willing to take responsibility for my actions.
“Thus says the Lord:
Stand beside the earliest roads,
ask the pathways of old
Which is the way to good, and walk it;
thus you will find rest for your souls.”
When our 345 Club visited Schooner Farms a couple of weeks ago, we came upon a circle of trails with a obelisk in the center. Immediately I said, ‘Here’s a maze.’ At that Mr. Schooner corrected me, saying that mazes have dead-end lines often requiring backtracking. This was a labyrinth, which means it continues, even if you feel like you are going in circles, and it always leads somewhere. What’s more, Mr. Schooner said, this labyrinth is modeled after the one found at the cathedral in Chartres, France.
Upon returning home I did some research. The concept of a labyrinth goes way back and is filled with myth. However, Christianity later claimed it. For some the walk on the trail represents pilgrims walking to the Holy Land or some other shrine. For contemplatives, the walk itself has become a time for prayer. One does not need to be distracted by questions of where the trail is heading. You just keep moving.
It’s the old question about destination vs the journey. In my experience, both are important although I often favor the walk itself. As for following any trail, I’ve had to remind myself not to depart from the path to see what else is out there. Growing up with many, many hours spent exploring wooded areas where there were no trails, hiking overland, even through brambles, became the norm.
On any given day it may feel that we are simply going around in circles as the trail of the labyrinth leads us on. But step by step we continue on our journey.
“Immediately, he received his sight and followed Jesus on the way.”