For the Beauty of the Earth

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All the beauty of the world,
the beauty that calls our admiration, our gratitude,
our worthship at the earthly level,
is meant as a set of hints, of conspiratorial whispers,
of clues and suggestions and flickers of light,
all nudging us into believing that behind the beautiful world
is not random chance but the loving God.  

N.T. Wright, For All God’s Worth

These days I give over many of my thoughts to the millions of devastated lives that have been besieged by the coronavirus. I cannot stop the tears at times when I hear people tell their stories on news reports or when I see the ugliness of images around the world — people suffering, people in hunger, people grieving and languishing as the lives they once knew are snatched away from them. My one solace is a gift from a friend who is a lover of nature. She graces me every time we communicate with the many ways she has learned to find peace in the beauty of the world.

This morning, a cool wind was blowing as the sun warmed my face. I was warmed not only physically, but also emotionally and spiritually. All was quiet, except the wind, the flutter of hummingbird wings, the gentle tinkling of the wind chimes and the birdsong that I could hear all around me. I looked up into my favorite tree with its background of a perfect, cloudless bright blue sky. I could not help but notice the leaves in the tree, moving in the wind and presenting a shimmering display showing off hundreds of shades of green.

It carried me away, even if just for a few minutes, and I found myself embracing the beauty of the earth and the God who created it. I found a smidgen of comfort, peace and the kind of inner joy that is beyond any sorrow I might feel. Instead of being swallowed by the ugliness of the television news, I was blessed by delighting in the freshness and the beauty of the world around me.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.  — Genesis 1:28-31

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible . . . all things were created through him and for him.  — Collosians 1:16

In this present moment in time, I cannot help but see the finger of God in all of creation. I cannot help but offer praise to God through the words of the hymn we often sing, For the Beauty of the Earth.

For beauty of each hour
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale, and tree and flower,
Sun and moon and stars of light:
Christ, our God, to Thee we raise
This our grateful hymn of praise.

Text: Folliott Sandford Pierpoint; Music: William Chatterton Dix (1864)

I invite you to listen to the video below. For just a few moments, pay attention to this lovely hymn of praise, perhaps as part of your meditation time.

Almost Magic!

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Photo by James Ronan,  FOAP/Getty Images

Today, while minding my own business — and browsing the Better Homes & Gardens website — I stumbled across a stunning image of a tree. Those of you who know me, know that I have had a lifelong passion for trees. Trees, for me, are not only beautiful, they also take me often into a spiritual place. This morning while looking at the bark of the Rainbow Eucalyptus tree (Eucalyptus deglupta), my thought was, “This is almost magic! It can’t be real!”

Rainbow Eucalyptus trees look too beautiful to be real (but they are!) (BH&G) 

These  trees have an astounding multicolored bark that looks like it’s been decorated with a humongous paintbrush. They seem like something one might imagine, or see in a fantasy movie, or discover in a Dr. Seuss book. But they do grow naturally with a brilliantly colored bark. The Rainbow Eucalyptus, which grow 100 to 200 feet tall, are native to tropical regions like the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and even in the most southern parts of the U.S. “Though pictures of these trees are stunning, they don’t quite capture the awe of seeing them in person.

A real rainbow eucalyptus can stop you in your tracks, so if you have the chance to travel to see them, it’s well worth the journey. (BH&G)

As you would expect, I did some research to find places where I could see this magical tree in person. San Diego, California, is actually becoming a travel destination for seeing these trees. One can see them at Balboa Park, along Sports Arena Boulevard, at the San Diego Zoo, and in parts of Mission Bay. One can also see them in parts of Florida, Hawaii and Texas. So there really are a few places you can see a Rainbow Eucalyptus without needing a passport.

You might ask, “What’s so important about a tree that looks fake?” And that would be a good question. I’m not sure I have a coherent answer, but I’ll give it a shot. Sometimes we find ourselves in places that feel “blah.” We’ve lost our sense of direction and maybe even our will to move forward in life. Those times can come to us because of grief, illness, family challenges, concern for our children, stagnancy in our careers, waning spirituality or simply feeling out of sorts. Hundreds of life circumstances can bring us to a lethargic or depressed place in life. It’s not a very good place to be, and most of us wonder how we got to such a place.

In those times (and there have been many) when lethargy got the best of me, I tended to search for a bit of magic. No ordinary remedy seemed adequate. I just needed some magic and I have discovered over many years that magic can be found in a myriad of places, beginning with some very hope-filled passages of Scripture.

There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God; for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy . . .
— Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 (NRSV)

In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider; God has made the one as well as the other . . .
— Ecclesiastes 7:14 (NRSV)

So I commend enjoyment, for there is nothing better for people under the sun than to eat, and drink, and enjoy themselves, for this will go with them in their toil through the days of life that God gives them under the sun.
— Ecclesiastes 8:15 (NRSV)

For you shall go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

— Isaiah 55:12 (ESV)

Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength . . .” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing . . .
— Nehemiah 8:9-12 (NRSV)

And always, words from the Psalmist:

You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

— Psalm 16:11 (NRSV)

I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
— Psalm 27:13 (NRSV)

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
— Psalm 37:4 (ESV)

These messages from the pages of the Bible bring me joy and a bit of relief from feeling down. Being lifted from depression, sadness, the doldrums and other similar difficult seasons of life can feel like magic, magic that can be found in lots of places — if we’re paying attention. The magic may be found in a forest with a verdant canopy of leaves we can see if we look up. It may be found in the laughter of a child or in listening to joyful songs, the rhythmic melody moving through the heart. Magic may be found in loving relationships, in a garden, in a place of prayer and contemplation. You and I might find magic in birdsong or in the cloud shapes we see in the morning sky. We can even find magic in the darkest of our nights — for 100 thousand million stars sparkle for us in the Milky Way — a gift from the Creator, shining out of the darkness.

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Photo by Danita Delimont/Getty Images

Today, I found magic in the most unlikely place — in the bark of Rainbow Eucalyptus trees. At least it felt like almost magic! I happened upon this treasure of nature quite by accident, or perhaps it was by providence. Anyway, catching sight of this whimsical, majestic tree brought me the joy of remembering afresh the varied potpourri of the gifts of creation, coming from God, the Father/Mother of lights.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness nor shadow of turning.
— James 1:17 (NKJV)

Thanks be to God for unspeakable gifts of grace. Amen.

 

 

 

Stay Awhile!

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I am a lover of trees — all trees. I religiously follow the life cycle of the only tree in my yard. It’s a Chinese Tallow tree and every botanist calls it a nuisance tree, an invasive species that should be controlled. I find the tree fascinating, even mesmerizing, as it changes.

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Not only do the heart-shaped, bright green leaves turn yellow, orange, purple and red in autumn, but the tree produces seeds that start out green, turn brown-black and then white. The changing colors call my attention to my constant life changes and, in a way, bring the comfort of knowing that we really do survive life changes.

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The tree captures my spirit every year as autumn approaches. In a way, I meditate on my tallow tree. I watch its changes. I feel the raindrops of its sticky sap that drips on me when I’m under it. I listen to the birdsong that echoes among its boughs. I even hear my tree whisper to me sometimes when the breeze blows through it in just the right way. The tree can call me to introspection. It can inspire me on days when inspiration is beyond my grasp and unfaith threatens. On those days, the inspiration that stirs in me is peace. It is prayer.

I have to admit, though, that I walk past my tree dozens of times a day without notice, taking its shade for granted and completely unaware of its enchanting beauty. Therein lies the human dilemma of dispassionate inattention, our failure to notice or to take in nature’s extravagance. It is when a tree is just a tree. It is when we miss the spiritual experience that creation offers us as gift. 

B5263037-5BBB-4505-AF52-1DC541DB2290There is no better expression I could share than Mary Oliver’s poem, When I Am Among Trees.

When I am among the trees, 
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks, and the pines, 
they give off such hints of gladness.

I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment, 
and never hurry through the world 
but walk slowly, and bow often. 

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”

The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,”
they say, “and you, too, have come
into the world to do this, to go easy,
to be filled with light, and to shine.”

1EBD15F8-1BF9-468E-9543-51C89F27DCCAOh, to claim our place in the world, to go easy, to embody the message of the trees: “It’s simple!” And then to remember that the changing seed pod, as its life cycle moves around, is really a portrait of rebirth.

On my way to the car dozens of times a week, might I take notice as I pass my tree, never hurrying, walking slowly and bowing often. Might I see more and hear more and feel more, recalling Mary Oliver’s words:

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”

 

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On another note, please pray for me as I await a life-saving kidney transplant. I am grateful that you are walking with me on this journey that often feels so frightening. Your thoughts and prayers mean so much. If you would like to read the story of my illness, please visit the Georgia Transplant Foundation’s website at this link:

http://client.gatransplant.org/goto/KathyMFindley

A “Go Fund Me” page is set up for contributions to help with the enormous costs related to the transplant, including medications, housing costs for the month we have to stay near the transplant center, and other unforeseeable costs for my care following the transplant. If you can, please be a part of my transplant journey by making a contribution at this link:

https://bit.ly/33KXZOj

 

A Safe and Gentle Presence

D10C41D6-4875-479D-B4BC-40762C72FD3CIf you know me well, you will know that I have a love affair with trees. I always have, ever since I was a little girl playing among the protruding, gnarly roots of the enormous, beautiful magnolia tree in our yard. I would stay there for hours sometimes, finding under the tree’s canopy my own personal and private hiding place. Though it was ill advised, the tree endured carvings in its trunk without complaining even once. That tree had multiple carved hearts, each with an arrow and the names of boyfriends that came and went.

Today I was reminded how much I love trees when I received a mailing from the Arbor Day Foundation asking me to complete a survey, which I promptly did. As a token of appreciation for completing the survey, the Arbor Day Foundation will send me a calendar, a tree book and ten free trees.

It was an offer I couldn’t refuse, dreaming of having ten new trees in my yard, but of course, knowing that the free trees they send me will be five inches tall. No matter. I’ll plant them and nurse them and hope for the best.

I was also prompted by the Arbor Day Foundation to wonder about state trees. Fred and I tried to guess a few, but eventually resorted to Wikipedia for a list. Interesting list, ranging from common trees like the ubiquitous pine all the way to more exotic-sounding trees like Utah’s Quaking Aspen, Pennsylvania’s Eastern Hemlock and Arizona’s Blue Palo Verde.

23E0BDA9-6047-4A1B-AE2A-131CC85D8385Now that you’ve had a lesson on state trees that you did not ask for, I will tell you what’s up with me and trees. The lifelong connection happened when I was just a little girl. I lived with an abusive father who made my home a very unsafe place. Other forms of violence were prevalent as well: shouting and abusive language, threats of physical harm and a violent uncle that came with a gun and broke into our house by smashing the glass in our front door.

I was a child of fear, constant fear, and so I found hiding places under our trees, two huge magnolias, an even taller pecan tree, and even under the branches of Miss Martha Tebshereny’s plum tree. An occasional plum was a bonus!

Here’s the best truth: that it is incredibly powerful that out of a troubled childhood, I brought happy memories. I brought with me into my adult years images of safety; moments of playfulness; an appreciation of nature’s beauty; the taste of fresh figs, plums and pecans; a lovely collection of magnolia cones; the treasure of memories and an abiding love of trees.

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She wept a river of tears
holy water, sent to soften the sharp edges of sorrow
a gentle hollowing out, carving new chambers in her heart
a hallowed vessel . . . 
Kate Mullane Robertson

There was healing under the weeping branches of those trees. There was hope. I think it was Holy Ground.

That’s something for which I am very grateful. I am grateful to a loving and compassionate God, who, I am quite sure, met me a few times under one of those childhood trees. God, who knows how important it is to protect children,  and graced me with a safe and gentle presence. Because of that, I made it out of a home filled with violence to a better, safer world.

Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

 

The Cross in the Garden

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Although I have a very small yard, I do have a tiny garden beside my tiny front porch. This morning the jasmine in the garden is in full bloom filling the air with sweet jasmine perfume. The tiny water feature is making gentle water sounds that relax and heal, as rippling water tends to do. A bird is splashing around in the birdbath, the flowers are blooming, and the ferns are swaying in Macon’s gentle breeze. A large iron Celtic cross leans on the tallow tree, always reminding me where my faith comes from.

Now there is an issue with the iron cross in the garden. It falls over all the time. No matter how deep I place it in the soil, it falls over. Being an ardent tree lover, I refuse to nail the cross to the tallow tree. So it continues to fall over and I continue to prop it up.

Perhaps, as a symbol of faith, it’s appropriate that the cross falls over. My faith falls over all the time, and just as I continually prop up the cross in my garden, the Creator props my faith back up every time it falls.

I think of the Psalms where we read so many words of God’s help and protection as in Psalm 118.

I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
but the Lord helped me.

The Lord is my strength and my might;
he has become my salvation.

— Psalm 118:13-14 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

 
Like the cross in the garden, I might fall over a time or two on my journey. That’s okay, because I know a God who props me up, holds me up, lifts me up, raises me up!

Thanks be to God.

Rootedness

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Photo by Jeremy Bishop

I spend a good deal of energy trying to understand myself. I wonder about the places my emotions go, how I got to where I am spiritually, where my deepest convictions came from. Self-assessment is a lifelong process. Saleem Haddad expresses the process with great insight when he writes this in his book, Guapa.

 . . . Digging through my roots to understand the way my branches grew.
(https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14107015.Saleem_Haddad)

These days, I have been digging through my own rootedness, and as I have contemplated my roots, I recalled the deep childhood influence of the two people who literally nurtured my sense of rootedness — my Aunt Koula and Yiayia, my grandmother. It is clear to me that I was rooted in the devotion of these two strong women.

From my dear Aunt Koula, I received the kind of lavish love that is most surely a part of a Greek aunt’s DNA. And from my attentive (sometimes intrusive) Greek grandmother, fierce protection. One can thrive on lavish love and fierce protection, and I did thrive.

But my teen years brought change. I was no longer near my aunt, my grandmother, or even my mother. Instead, I lived with a harsh and abusive father, a broken man held together with alcohol and the sexual abuse of his only daughter. So I was a troubled teenager, adrift for a season and feeling that I had lost my rootedness.

But inside me was a persistent resilience. In the midst of abuse, I sent my roots even deeper into the nurturing soil, a soil that still held the nutrients placed there by my aunt and my grandmother. I managed to keep myself rooted. Through the pain of abuse, I became stronger as my roots pushed deeper into the earth beneath me. I found the Divine Source that made sure I would be rooted and grounded in love.

I was always a religious child with meaningful ties to my Greek Orthodox faith. But as an eighteen year old, I discovered an even stronger foundation of faith. I found God in a new way, reborn by a fresh faith in Christ.

My roots held me firm. I was stronger than ever before. And at times during those difficult years. I would fall into God’s arms of grace as I repeated the prayer that, through the years, would inspire me more than any prayer in scripture.

. . . I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

— Ephesians 3:14-19 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

To all around me, I appeared strong and vibrant during those years of chronic and constant abuse. Like a tree that displays the splendor of its verdant leaves in the sunlight, I displayed my own “leaves,” in spite of the destructive and pain-filled environment that was my life.

Budding. Growing. Greening. Branching out.

Outwardly, I seemed healthy and strong, but the real strength was below the ground, roots and taproots pushing deeper into the soil. What happens there is unseen — below the ground. But that which happens below the ground, unseen, literally fashions the glory of what is seen, above the ground, branches reaching high into the sky toward the heavens, pointing to the God of the ages.

It is miracle, really, a grace gift from the God who longs to plant us firmly and deeply into a holy foundation. And so we can withstand the storms and the winds when they threaten, even gale force winds that move us, but cannot destroy us.

I call it rootedness.

 

For the Love of Trees

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Image by Diane Walker@Contemplative Photography

I have had a lifelong love affair with trees. Trees have inspired and strengthened me in many ways. The huge magnolia tree from my troubled childhood was a place of safety, giving me a place to hide from danger, offering to me a place to feel protected.

Miss Martha’s sprawling fig tree on the edge of our back yard bore wonderfully unusual fruit, soft and sweet and delectable. Her plum trees were loaded with plums, sweet and sour and delicious both ways. The fond memory I have of Miss Martha’s trees is punctuated with an angry Miss Martha catching us stealing figs and plums, yelling at us with an ominous voice, and chasing us from her yard.

The African plains graced my life with the gift of watching giraffes feeding on flat-topped thorn trees and elephants pushing their weight against misshaped baobab trees. The colorful swaying of ten foot tall bougainvillea trees was a mesmerizing sight. And in Africa, poinsettia plants are trees, trees like I had never before seen.

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Beyond this crash course on botany, and dendrology, I share a heart-and-soul love of trees. It is almost a spiritual connection for me, one that keeps me fully grounded, one that represents life, growth, rootedness, protection and sheer enjoyment.

My friend, Elaine, writes a beautiful blog entitled The Edge. In today’s blog post, Elaine shares a quote about what we learn from trees written by Diane Walker. (https://theedgeishere.wordpress.com/2017/08/10/contemplative2017-rooted/)

It’s possible, you know — we learn it from the trees —
to be full of grace and humor, dancing in the light
while remaining fully grounded,
rooted in the gravitas of being . . .

– Diane Walker

God is pleased, I think, when we dance in the light full of grace and humor. We learn it from the trees, Diane Walker says. I believe she’s right. So today, I will be spending a few moments sitting in the shade of our Chinese Tallow tree and swinging underneath a towering Pin Oak. Perhaps in the leaves that rustle gently in the breeze, I will hear God’s  whispers.

 

 

Silence and Solace

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Sometimes all of us need a way to escape the ordinary day. Sometimes we need silence and solace. Sometimes we need the shimmering colors of a forest and the scents that waft through the trees. Sometimes we just need to leave behind all the concerns that hold us in bonds.

I imagine that my place of solace is in a forest. It’s only my imagination, mind you, because I never ever enter a forest. It’s a shame really, because I think I would be nurtured and comforted in a forest. I think I would find inner renewal and refreshment. I think that in a forest, I might very well hear God in the whispers of the branches.

Regrettably, I can only imagine. I will probably never make my way into a forest. Too many, bugs, poisonous plants, and creatures. Still I imagine spending some quiet time in a forest. I recently read a piece written by Ishmael Beah that said “The branches of the trees looked as if they were holding hands and bowing their heads in prayer.”

His words confirm that perhaps the forest is a place I really do need to visit, and maybe even to hold hands with the trees and bow my head in prayer. It would be a lovely escape, a life-giving escape. It would be a place that would call to me to forget the things that worry me and hold me fast.

Patricia Anne McKillip is a creative author of fantasy and science fiction novels. One of her novels, Winter Rose, expresses the way I feel about the notion of an escape into silence and solace. This is what she wrote:

I did not want to think about people. I wanted the trees, the scents and colors, the shifting shadows of the wood, which spoke a language I understood. I wished I could simply disappear in it, live like a bird or a fox through the winter, and leave the things I had glimpsed to resolve themselves without me.

I’m off to find a forest. Before spring breaks through, I just might find silence and solace in the whispering branches of the towering, bare trees. I might even hear God.