nursing tender things along. . .
i found myself crouching down as low as i could go the other day—likely lower than a girl with slits in her side should wisely have gone. but i was intent on inspection. i was searching clumps of stick for little nubs of green. of life. of any sign that the last shrub i planted in the fall — the day before the frost came — had survived the long winter.
it was a long winter for plenty of us — certainly for my garden, newly planted in the weeks not long after the dreaded fence went up next door, and indeed for me.
and yet now the season of birth and rebirth is upon us. from every bough and limb, from every red bird’s throat, the song of springtime’s hallelujah bursts forth and keeps on forthing.
i find myself particularly intent on the tendernesses of this holy spring. i am crouching down low day after day, keeping watch for signs of life, coaxing beauties to unfurl.
seems a wise posture, that of nursemaid to the birthing earth. it’s one i am learning to mimic as i consider my own deeply tender places, as i picture the convulsions of my poor little lung that likely has no clue what hit it, and why all the folderol and commotion a week or so ago. but it is now doing its darnedest to sew itself back to whole, pressing tight the seams that now are held in place with metal threads. the miracle of the human body is not unlike the miracle of holy earth, and as i slowly walk my garden’s edge, stooping here or there to lend a hand — lifting clematis vine to its fallen trellis, rescuing a robin’s egg mislaid on a railing’s edge — i am breathing in the tender caretaking ways of the God who so tenderly holds us in God’s sacred trusted hand. or so i imagine. none of us has a clue really just what form this God of ours inhabits, so from time to time i apply my storybook imaginings to make it all more apprehensible. i understand the naiveté of picturing a God who scoops me in God’s hand, but somewhere deep in that vision there is a grain of holy comfort. there is an image put to the ineffable. and right in here, i need that image.
i’m not the first to put pictures to my God, and i know i’m not the last. it’s a hard task here on earth to imagine the Divine goodness that inhabits all the cosmos, and surely all the heavens, and then the questions come: is heaven the holy light deep in our hearts? is heaven that palpable knowing that we are held by a goodness beyond our wildest imagination? once upon a time the nuns taught that heaven had a pearly gate, and was carpeted in clouds. oh, lord, they shouldn’t teach such things to wide-eyed little children; it can take a long long time to revise the picture reel inside your head, and why waste time in lala land when God is so much more and vaster and infinitely deeper.
i am spending many chunks of time pondering the presence of God in this messy chapter of my life. what i know is this: when i was deep in the dark tunnel of an MRI that scanned the vessels of my brain, and told not to flinch a single muscle for 45 excruciating minutes, i surrendered to the softest arms i’ve ever known. i imagined them as the arms of God, cradling me. and in that space of utter peace, i rested. and did not flinch, did not cough, did not exercise the itch or cramp in my shoulder; i found the holy wherewithal to do precisely as the doctor ordered.
and that is how i pass the hardest hours. i go deep down under. into the place where God and angels dwell. i’ve no knowledge of this landscape. it’s all uncharted and unknown. but when i go there i am safe. and i am cradled in what feels like love. and that to me is how it feels when i walk my garden’s edge, crouch down low, and lift a hand to bud or vine or mislaid egg. we are all nurturing each other along. God and all of us. and i’ve no idea just how it works, or what it is. but i know i sense a holiness that i am choosing to call my God.
(i fully grasp that i’m going out on limbs here, groping along in wholly naked ways, but if i don’t use these hours of my life to plumb the deepest questions, to fumble for the truest answers i know, then what worth will these struggles hold? we have a chance to be our best selves in our darkest hardest hours. and these are mine. so far. so why not open the book and see what stirs? i’m impelled to wonder and to muse aloud….)
and now a few morsels, as has been my way in this year of gathering up bouquets of wisdoms…
Julian of Norwich, an English anchoress who experienced a vision in 1373 and wrote about it in a work titled Showings or Revelations of Divine Love — the earliest surviving book by a woman in the English language. my friends at the SALT Project (emmy-award-winning visual storytellers with a spiritual bent; check them out) laid this excerpt out as a poem. i found it lovely….
And in this he showed me a little thing
the quantity of a hazelnut,
lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed.
And it was as round as any ball.
I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding,
and thought, ‘What may this be?’
And it was answered generally thus,
”It is all that is made.”
I marveled how it might last,
for I thought it might
suddenly have fallen to nothing
And I was answered in my understanding:
It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it.
And so have all things their beginning
by the love of God.
In this little thing I saw three properties.
The first is that God made it.
The second that God loves it.
And the third, that God keeps it.
+ Julian of Norwich
as has been my habit in recent months, i mark the turning of each month by turning to the pages of Henry David Thoreau’s The Journal: 1837–1861. here’s a dreamy entry from the ninth of may when thoreau was 34 and aswirl in the warmth of mid-Spring. (may our warmth please come….)
May 9. It is impossible to remember a week ago. A river of lethe flows with many windings the year through, separating one season from another. The heavens for a few days have been lost. It has been a sort of paradise instead.
Saw a green snake, twenty or more inches long, on a bush, hanging over a twig with its head held forward six inches into the air, without support and motionless. What there for? Leaves generally are most beautiful when young and tender, before insects or weather has defaced them.
These are the warm-west-wind, dream-frog, leafing-out, willowy, haze days. Is not this summer, whenever it occurs, the vireo and yellowbird and golden robin being here? The young birch leaves reflect the light in the sun.
Mankind seen in a dream. The gardener asks what kind of beans he shall plant. Nobody is looking up into the sky.
a little dictionary for those of us who don’t know our greek: lethe: “forgetfulness,” from the river in Hades that causes drinkers to forget their past.
one more thing a brilliant woman sent me this week when i was inquiring whether a certain “tiny retreat” (that’s how it was billed) had a virtual component, for those of us whose lives are pretty zoom-y these days…..
“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”Catherine of Siena
finally, a profound note of thanks, to the brilliant and bold mountain-mover of a friend i have in poet and scholar (and my former cambridge landlord) mark burrows, who sent a note to all who were at the zoom book launch a few weeks ago (a lifetime ago!), and who implored you to add a little amazon review to my “languishing” Book of Nature. well, the book isn’t languishing but its state of review sure was. i have no understanding of the algorithms of amazon, but apparently, without reviews, you’re sunk. glub. glub. glub. so mark, unbeknownst to me, rallied the forces and got the reviews boosted from 3 to 11, currently. in a million years i couldn’t have done what he did. in these otherwise upturned days, the human species has shown me in brilliant colors just how magnificently we all can be, and love is pouring forth with the might to rocket me to the holy moon, which was magnificent last night if you happened to notice.
so, thank you, blessed blessed mark. and thank every one of you who in your own magnificent ways has stepped to my side in this curious curious walk through springtime 2023…..
BAM, the Divine Feminine is so present as I read/pray with your inspired reflections this morning. You and She are into an unfolding time of very sacred ‘mothering’ (see your book stays with me!) and we are privy to observe how you two together are ‘nursing tender things along” and birthing new life. Many thanks and many blessings, my dear friend!
dear darling (writing from across the pond, i do believe!), so lovely. i’ve not delved too deeply into the Divine Feminine but i should. and i will. point me toward your favorite writers therein…..xoxoxoxox
I was on vacation last week when I read about your diagnosis. I couldn’t even attempt to respond on my phone, so I’m responding right here, right now. I am very sorry that this happened to you. It really is unfair! But, I know you will fight with grace and determination. You have been in my prayers since last week, and you will continue to be in my prayers. I am certain our loving God will be with you every step of the way toward health.
And speaking of Julian of Norwich, always remember her wise words – “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
You, too, will be well.
All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well, is a line i say over and over and over many times a week. i love the poetry and the insistence of it……
bless you, dear jack. xoxox
From my limited perspective, I think you have lived the words, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” Catherine of Siena. Not for me to say, of course, but I know you’ve been a healer in deed and word for your adult life, (Nurse, author, mother, general nurturer of those whom you have known.). I say prayers for your healing and gratitude for using your talents “to set the world on fire.” Susan said your words at family school (Patty Kovacs read them) were very powerful and moving. She’s asking David if he can send them along for me to read. Hoping and praying for joyous days ahead for you, my friend.
ahhh, jay, always one of my favorite righteous souls! so good to find you here. comforting to find old threads wending their way back. and so perfect that you zeroed in on “setting the world on fire.” oh, those medieval ones, they understood how pressed we all are for time. and we best not tarry. thank you for your prayers, prayers that i know will be heard. it was a tingling sort of thing to hear that Rabbi Chava and i would both find ourselves with similar diagnoses and surgery at almost the same moment in time. and i wholly understood david’s kind urge to combine forces and put the word out there among Family School friends and families. Chava’s eloquence, especially in her facebook posts, speaks for my quietudes on the subject (except for here, where i know the space is sacred). i actually think david pulled words from my blog post of last week. just scroll down one more post, and you’ll find something titled, “some words are hard to say….” it’s from there that david pulled an excerpt. but mostly and in the now, thank you, and dear dear susan, for wasting no time in reaching out. a good chunk of my heart will forever rest in the early families of Family School, where we all learned together to braid our faith traditions, to see the distinctions, and celebrate the shared insistence that we are here to set the world on fire in ways of truth, and justice, and pure gentle kindness. xoxox dear jay. and please give my love to susan too. xoxox
Bending down to peer at your hydrangea must have hurt! Not to mention how it must have felt to stand up afterward! But I’m not surprised. After reading
The Book of Nature, I learned not only about a bazillion things that I, the biology major, never knew before; I also better understand your relationship-you’re connection-to the good earth and the sky above it, so much better. In particular, I know that your interaction with your garden is healing you from the inside-out. (Just promise that you won’t do any digging or weeding!) “All shall be well” is going to be my new mantra, I love it! But to you I just say, “Be Well”.
well, i HAD to see if i could find ANY signs of life, and i continue to bend down, though no longer do i need to crouch quite so low, because the little bit-lets of nubby green are visible even from five feet up! i am delighted you learned a bazillion things. the astonishments of wonder never cease to amaze me……never. xox