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…..