Look for Beauty, for Grace, for Love

look for beautyIf you look closely at this photo I just took of the garden plot outside our kitchen window, you will see that I have work to do! You may also see the rhubarb poking up, and the chives. Bordering the unkempt plot is green grass, and there is a lovely shaft of sunlight warming the rich black soil. There is beauty there, and the grace of new life. There are living signs of God’s presence, of God’s great big love.

I have been phoning people I have never actually met, as part of the Harrow United Church “Angels” calling effort. Since I have only served this congregation for about 18 months, there are still a lot of folks I have yet to meet.

(If you have not been called yet, we are still working our way through the list. If you would like to help with calls, reach out to me. You can use the same contact form if you just feel like you would like me to call you.  I am happy to call the folks connected with Harrow United Church.

Everyone I have called has been happy to talk. One woman I spoke with yesterday described looking out her window, watching for bursts of spring growth, and new birds. She has the right idea, I think. Look for beauty, for grace, for love.

This wise woman also mentioned that she limits her diet of “news”. As she put it, every time she turns on the tv or radio, all they talk about are scary things.

The scary things are real. We need to take them seriously, and follow the best advice about self-isolation, keeping social distance, being careful.

We also need to look for signs that life is good, love is real, and there is beauty in the world.

This poem by Mary Oliver is a good reminder.

Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air –
An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
Biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
A shrill dark music – like the rain pelting the trees – like a waterfall
Knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds –
A white cross
Streaming across the sky, its feet
Like black leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?

–Mary Oliver

white swan

Mindfulness, and the secret lovely toad

During this week of study leave, my “serious” reading has been Richard Rohr’s “The Universal Christ”. Each day I employed the discipline of taking notes from the chapter I read, and distilling them into a blog post, with the hope of integrating Rohr’s ideas into my conscious thinking, and way of seeing the world.

natalie goldbergMy more personal “reading” has actually been listening to Natalie Goldberg read a commemorative edition of her book “Writing Down the Bones”, which is about a Zen approach to writing. I love that at the end of each chapter, she sets down the script, and talks about how it felt to read that section.

One of the themes running through Goldberg’s work seems to be “noticing” the small details of moments, and writing them down, to bring exactness, precision, and life to your writing. I think this gentle encouragement to notice grows organically out of her Zen practice. Be mindful. Pay attention. Be where you are, and see what there is to see, right where you happen to be.

Goldberg’s theme is not a great departure from what Rohr writes of in The Universal Christ. He sees, and loves, the presence of the divine imbued in all things, in every aspect of Creation.writing down the bones other

I like to listen to audio books while I do chores. This may be something like the opposite of living in the moment. Even so, it fed my soul to have Natalie Goldberg’s voice in my ears this afternoon while I did yardwork.

One of my tasks was repairing the downspout fed by the eavestrough on the back of our house.  It is the only one that does not feed into the town sewer, and when it rains, water pools next to our foundation, and finds its way into our basement laundry room.

When I lifted the vinyl splash block that guides the flow of water out of the downspout, I noticed a little brown toad. The toad’s colouring provided such camouflage, I wonder if this species has t20190520_171117he chameleon-like capacity to shift its appearance. Because I was using my phone to listen to Natalie Goldberg’s book, I was able to take a photo before the toad scampered away, and disappeared under some brush.